Three in five fraud victims go on to experience mental health problems

A government campaign to address fraud has highlighted the mental health impact on people who fall victim to scams

21st March 2024 about a 4 minute read
“This research demonstrates that fraud is about more than losing money – it can have a profound impact on our wellbeing." Charlene Marks, head of mental health and money advice, Mental Health UK

Three in five (60%) victims of fraud have struggled with their mental health in the aftermath of the crime, according to a new survey.

The survey, carried out by the government campaign Stop! Think Fraud, found that more than half (55%) of people whose mental health was affected said they experienced anxiety, while 48% experienced depression and half said they developed low self-confidence and self-esteem (51%).

Just over a quarter (26%) of fraud victims experienced physical changes as a direct result of losing money, including losing or gaining weight, experiencing headaches and suffering from panic attacks. More than two-thirds (69%) said they experienced sleep problems.

The campaign quoted a 64-year-old fraud victim who said: “I think more people need to recognise just how much of a toll fraud can have on someone’s mental health. The stress affects all aspects of your life, and if you don’t have a good support network around you, it could easily become really overwhelming.

“To this day I still receive texts, calls and sometimes emails from people trying to steal my money. I’d like to think I’m a lot more vigilant now, but anyone could be caught out by these scams.”

People with mental health problems more vulnerable to fraud

The government has partnered with the charity Mental Health UK to run the campaign. Charlene Marks, head of the organisation’s mental health and money advice service, said: “This research demonstrates that fraud is about more than losing money – it can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. These worrying statistics also underline how money and mental health are intrinsically linked.

“In fact, we know from other studies that we at Mental Health UK have carried out that if a person is already struggling with their mental health, this can make them much more vulnerable and three times more likely to be a victim of online fraud.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to be targeted by criminals looking to steal your money, and it’s understandable to feel worried it could happen to you or a loved one. Understanding the risks of fraud and knowing how to protect yourself can help address any anxiety you might experience.

“Dealing with fraud can be distressing, and it’s common that this is compounded with feelings of shame or blame. It’s really important that people seek support for their mental health if it’s having a continued impact on their wellbeing.

“With the right support people can move forward with their lives, and for many seeking help from their GP or a registered counsellor represents a positive step forward.”

Scams can happen to anyone

The psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos said that victims often don’t seek support because they feel ashamed of having fallen prey to a scam.

“There is a sense that they ‘should’ have known better, that they ‘could’ have spotted the signs, and as a consequence, this embarrassment often stops people from not only feeling entitled to seek support but, critically, from processing and responding to what has happened in a way that minimises the impact on their mental health,” she said.

“The fact is that scams like these can happen to anybody,” Papadopoulos added. “Fraudsters and the technology they use are becoming so advanced that our ability to spot fraud and respond to it is constantly being challenged.

“It’s vital to get people not only to have a sense of entitlement about seeking support, but to equip them with the skills to stop, think twice and develop tools to respond.

“The key message here is to encourage anyone that has experienced fraud to seek support, because good effective support is out there.”


FCC Insight

The incidence of fraud has risen steeply in the past few year, and in 2023, the total amount of fraud committed in the UK was an eye-watering £2.3bn. People are increasingly prey to online scams, phishing and system breaches and authorised push payment (APP) transactions, where fraudsters trick people into transferring money to them. Falling victim to scams such as these can be immensely distressing, and it is not surprising that many experience mental health problems as a result. For people already struggling with financial problems, the impact can be even greater. Yet many feel embarrassed to admit that they’ve been the victim of fraud because they feel it’s their own fault – and as a result they may be reluctant to seek mental health support. While it’s good to see the government launch a campaign to alert people to signs of fraud, it would also be helpful to see them take strong measures to reduce the incidence of fraud.