Scammers Re-traumatise Bushfire Victims

The 2020 year started in Australia with skyscrapers of flame tearing through the bush throughout Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Red skies at midnight, black skies at noon – it was a vision of hell. The country was burning, firefighters were stretched thin and communities were devastated. The bushfires have left many in ravaged communities feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

These images, broadcast throughout the world, triggered an outpouring of generosity throughout Australia and other countries. Charities to support the firefighters, the communities and wildlife soon abounded. It was heart-warming to witness how rapidly people opened their hearts – and wallets – to support those in need.

Australian Bushfire

But wherever there are people eager to give money, there will be those working hard to grab a piece of it, like ants swarming a picnic. Scammers were rubbing their hands and getting to work.

The scammers were quick: they had set up fake fundraiser sites within a few hours of the tragedy. By mid-January, the ABC had reported no fewer than 400 fake charity sites had been set up to scam funds intended for bushfire relief (see full story here, and here).

Imagine losing a loved one in a bushfire. Then imagine discovering that the names and images of your deceased have been exploited by scammers in fake Gofundme or Donorbox charities, seeking to steal from those who have empathy for your sorrow. Grieving victims then have to cope with the additional emotional burden of being violated by faceless strangers taking advantage of their tragedy and turning their loss into a money-making opportunity.

Rural communities are resilient. History tells us that communities recover after a bushfire, albeit deeply changed after such an event. Homes are rebuilt and forests slowly grow back. Although the impact upon a survivor’s mental health is known by professionals, it is not as widely discussed. Emotional problems are seen to be private matters. Survivors will try to rebuild their lives, but battle daily in silence against the impact of shock, grief and post-traumatic stress. 

Being the victim of a scam is a second burden, an unexpected blow for those already suffering emotional shock. Those who have been scammed in whatever manner are at risk of mental health issues.  Bushfire survivors are therefore being re-traumatised by scammers.

There are ways that the public can minimise the loss from charity frauds perpetrated by online scammers – see here for advice from the ACCC. Those targeted by scammers have one valuable weapon up their sleeve – to call out scams as they happen and to not let their shock or shame silence them. Scammers rely upon victims’ naivety to survive and to thrive. Educating the public and sharing information about their tactics will empower the vulnerable against their pernicious strategies.

If you have been scammed the best way to start to recover from a traumatic event (loss, shock, scam) is to reach out and connect with loved ones or someone outside your circle who will listen and empathise with your pain. Contact us at Life After Scams to speak to someone who knows your experience.

Blog written by Jo Antareau