Predicting online fraud victimhood

Online fraud are any type of fraud such as mass marketing fraud, advance fee fraud and identification theft. Online fraud in Canada are on the rise. In 2017, 13,426 cases of online fraud were reported to authorities according to Statistics Canada — nearly double the number reported in 2014.

Using psychological and criminological theories, Monica Whitty examined the predictors of online fraud victimhood. In particular, her research focused on psychological and sociodemographic characteristics and online behaviors that might place individuals at risk of becoming a victim of an online fraud. Regarding this last aspect, the author based her study on the routine activity theory proposed by Cohen and Felson. According to this theory, crime is unaffected by social causes, such as poverty and inequality. Individuals become victims of crime because they participate in ‘high risk’ activities or behaviours in the absence of capable guardianship (person or an object to deter an offense to occur) and in the company of motivated offenders. Thus, opportunity is the root cause of victimization. The research is based on an online questionnaire consisting of personality inventories and items devised to measure demographic descriptive data, routine activities and online guardianship behaviours.

The result showed that all participants in the sample had been exposed to an online fraud at some point in their lives and 7% of it  had lost money to it. However, although certain types of people were more likely to place themselves at risk and protect themselves, the result found that both psychological characteristics and routine activities were important to consider when predicting victimhood. Some of the predictor variables proposed in the study were not all significant in the direction hypothesized such as education, lack of premeditation, locus of control and online guardianship behaviours. The explanation for why educated people in this study were more likely to be scammed might be explained in regard to the overconfidence in the ability to recognize scams that could place people at greater risk of becoming scammed as they hold a ‘belief of invulnerability’. Educated people might be more likely to hold the view that they can spot a scam, and thereby spend less efforts seeking out persuasion and deception cues. An important finding here is that online guardianship behaviours did not protect individuals from becoming scammed. In fact, the opposite finding was revealed. Engaging in online guardianship behaviours might be exposing individuals more to scams/scammers and/or the sites that present information on how to protect individuals from scams does not communicate this information effectively

This paper provided new insights into the types of people and routine behaviours that place individuals at greater risk of becoming scammed. Any approach to preventing scam victimhood needs to consider: socio- demographic, personality and routine activities together and that a routine activity approach or personality approach alone is not sufficient.


Cite: Whitty,  M. T. (2019). Predicting susceptibility to cyber-fraud victimhood. Journal of Financial Crime, 26(1), 277-292