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Scammers use coercive control

We read a lot about coercive control and how it’s used to force people into doing things. It uses a range of psychological tactics to control how people behave in certain circumstances. Fraudsters exploit this when they create scams. So, what does it look like, how can you spot it and how can you keep yourself safe from it?

By Rightly

Wed 03 May 2023

5 min read

Coercive blog v2 Blog

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour that an individual uses to control, intimidate, and dominate their partner or family member. Or in the case of scammers, their targets. It involves using various tactics to isolate, manipulate, and undermine the victim's sense of self-worth, independence, and autonomy.

In cases of individual coercive control, often it’s a form of domestic abuse. The tactics may include but are not limited to:

  • Isolation: the abuser may restrict the victim's contact with friends and family, and control their access to transportation, money, or communication devices such as phones and tablets
  • Monitoring: the abuser may constantly monitor the victim's activities, whereabouts, and communication, including online activity. They may demand to read text or other messages
  • Threats: the abuser may threaten physical, emotional, or financial harm to the victim or their loved ones, or threaten to reveal embarrassing or damaging information
  • Intimidation: the abuser may use physical violence or the threat of violence to intimidate and control the victim
  • Gaslighting: the abuser may manipulate the victim's sense of reality and sanity, by denying, trivialising, or distorting their experiences or emotions.

Coercive control is often difficult to recognise, as it doesn’t always involve physical violence. It can have severe and long-lasting effects on the victim's mental and physical health, and may lead to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide.

The psychology behind coercive control

The psychology behind coercive control involves a combination of factors, including the scammer’s traits, their learned behaviour from previous scams, and the victim's vulnerability.

In a broader context, one theory suggests that abusers who engage in coercive control have a need for power and control, and may use manipulation and domination to meet these needs. This may be due to underlying psychological factors such as low self-esteem, insecurity, and a lack of empathy. That lack of empathy enables scammers to do serious harm to the lives of others and never think about the consequences for their victims. The scammer may use coercive control as a way to feel powerful and in control, and to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

It’s important to recognise that coercive control is a form of abuse that’s not the fault of the victim. Understanding the psychology behind coercive control can help you identify warning signs and seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing this.

How is coercive control used in scams?

Coercive control is often used in scams to manipulate and control victims to extract money or sensitive information from them, such as names, addresses, bank account information, passport details and so on. Coercive control in scams can be difficult to spot, as scammers often use sophisticated tactics to manipulate and control their victims. However, there are some warning signs that may indicate that a scammer is using coercive control tactics:

  • Pressure to act quickly: Scammers may use high-pressure sales tactics to pressure victims into making quick decisions, without giving them time to think things over or consult with others
  • Isolation: Scammers may encourage their victims to cut off contact with friends and family members who may be sceptical of the scam, thus isolating them from potential sources of support and advice. Romantic fraud relies on this
  • Fear and intimidation: Scammers may use threats or scare tactics to intimidate victims into compliance, such as threatening legal action or some other negative consequences of not complying with them
  • Emotional manipulation: Scammers use emotional manipulation to gain the victim's trust and control their behaviour. For example, they may pretend to be a romantic partner or a long-lost relative in order to exploit the victim's emotional vulnerability
  • Deception: Scammers may use false information or misrepresent themselves in order to deceive victims into believing they are legitimate. They may also use persuasive language and flattery to gain the victim's trust
  • Control of resources: Scammers may control the victim's access to money, food, or other resources in order to coerce them into compliance.

By using these tactics, scammers can exert coercive control over their victims, making it difficult for them to break free from the scam and often leading to financial and emotional harm. It’s important for people to be aware of these tactics and to seek help if they suspect they are being targeted by a scammer.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing coercive control in a scam, it’s important to seek help immediately. Contact a trusted friend or family member, or seek assistance from a professional organisation, such as Action Fraud, that specialises in scam prevention and support for victims. Remember that coercive control in scams is a form of abuse, and it’s never the victim's fault.

Some tips

Here are some tips for protecting yourself from coercive control in scams:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about common scam tactics and warning signs, and stay informed about new scams as they emerge
  • Be cautious online: Be wary of unsolicited messages, emails, and phone calls, and never share personal information or financial details with someone you don't know or trust
  • Don't act under pressure: Scammers often use high-pressure sales tactics to pressure victims into making quick decisions. Don't let yourself be rushed into making a decision without taking the time to think things over and do your research
  • Seek advice: If you’re unsure whether a message, email, or phone call is legitimate, seek advice from a trusted friend, family member, or professional organisation that specialises in scam prevention
  • Don't isolate yourself: Scammers often try to isolate victims from their support networks. Make sure to maintain your relationships with friends and family members, and seek help if you feel isolated or alone
  • Take control of your resources: Don't let a scammer control your access to money, food, or other resources. Keep control of your own assets and be cautious of anyone who asks for access to them
  • Report suspicious activity: If you suspect that you have been targeted by a scammer or are experiencing coercive control in a scam, report the activity to the appropriate authorities or a professional organisation that specialises in scam prevention and support for victims.

By staying informed, taking precautions, and seeking help when needed, you can protect yourself from coercive control in scams and avoid falling victim to these types of abusive tactics.

Your data might be where it starts

Before a scammer can try and expose you to a scam and exercise coercive control, they must have some information about you. The trickiest scams are when scammers have just enough data to be able to email or call you and convince you that they really are from an ‘official’ organisation. If they can do that they are halfway to conning you.

So if they can’t get that data about you, it’s much less likely that you will get scammed. Simply, if they don’t know anything about you, it’s much harder for them to target you.

Scammers get personal data in many ways, but quite often as the result of data being hacked or stolen in data breaches. Millions of data records get sold on the dark web, and that could include your details, stolen from an unsuspecting company that has your information in its servers.

To reduce the chances of your data getting into the hands of scammers, you should get it deleted from any organisation that no longer needs it. You can get your data deleted from any company, in a single click, by using Rightly Protect. Our service is quick, simple and free.

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