Cyber-fraudsters exploit mass communication technologies like email, instant messaging and social networking sites to trick people out of their money. The number of cyber-fraud victims appears to be increasing worldwide. More concerning is the fact that many of the victims get scammed more than once. Understanding why people are scammed online is critical, given that they often suffer both financial and psychological harm.
Whitty conducted a survey to examine the predictors of cyber-fraud victimhood, leveraging both psychological and criminological theories. An online questionnaire was sent to 10,723 United Kingdom residents, recruited from a paid panel. It measured the personality dispositions, socio-demographic profiles and online activities of the participants. More specifically, the survey measured impulsivity, locus of control, addiction, education, online activity frequency and self-protective or guardianship behaviors.
The study concluded that a predictive model for cyber-fraud victimhood needs to include sociodemographic characteristics, personality traits and online routine behaviors. It supported the notion that age, impulsiveness, addiction and risky online behaviors are related to victimhood. Most importantly, results considering education, self-control and guardianship were also linked, but not in the way that might be expected. Educated people were more likely to be scammed, perhaps because of their particular online activities. Further, they might be more likely to think that they can spot a scam and consequently spend less effort actively monitoring for them.
Online users with higher self-control and confidence were also more likely to be scammed, presumably because they failed to recognize the control others might have over them. Alarmingly, the only variable related to being scammed more than once was a likelihood to read e-safety websites, which actually increased among repeat victims. This suggests that at least some of those educational websites are not only ineffective, but they are counterproductive to security.
All participants had been exposed to a cyber-fraud at some point in their lives, with 7 per cent having lost money in the process. The results indicate the importance of combining research approaches as socio-demographic, personality and routine activities were all risk factors for fraud. The findings also suggest that cyber security education must be urgently improved. As impulsive users are at risk, the awareness information may need to be concise, easily accessible, engaging and actionable. Priming and warnings are not enough: users need practical advice on what to do to protect themselves.
Cyber fraud awareness isn’t allways helpful. Bad advice can increase the risk of becoming a victim. Educational websites urgently need to be improved.