Do the needs of victims of cybercrime differ from the needs of victims of traditional offline crime?

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Exploring the Needs of Victims of Cyber-dependent and Cyber-enabled Crimes

Information technology enables traditional forms of crime, such as fraud and stalking, as well as new offenses such as hacking and ransomware. New types of crimes generate new needs for their victims. Unfortunately, we have yet to establish exactly how the needs of victims of cybercrime may differ from those of victims of traditional offline crime.

Leukfeldt et al. interviewed 19 Dutch victims (14 women and 5 men) and 22 experts to explore the specific needs of cybercrime victims. Crimes ranged from cyber-dependent crime (hacking, ransomware), to financially motivated crime (phishing, dating fraud), interpersonal crime (cyberstalking) and sexual crime (criminal sexting). Study participants were recruited via social media and the Dutch Fraud Help Desk and Victim Support. They were asked about their specific needs, what actions they took to satisfy them and to what extent these needs were satisfied. Finally, victims were presented with a list of 30 needs and asked to indicate how important those were to them. Experts, originating from police cybercrime units and victim support organizations, were similarly asked to provide insight into the wishes and needs of cybercrime victims, according to their work experience.

Results suggest that victims of cybercrime largely have the same needs as victims of traditional offline offenses. However, those needs are often not met. The most frequently identified and most important need is recognition. This need is closely related to both the effects of victim blaming that interviewees regularly face and to the reaction of police officers, whom they feel do not take them seriously. It appears that in several cases victims were sent away by police officers when they wanted to file a report. Victims not always being recognized as such by the police is a known problem for offline offenses, but the problem might be more severe in the case of online crimes. Police officers often have insufficient knowledge to handle or assess complex online offenses. Online crimes also seem to be successfully prosecuted less often than traditional crimes, as only two of the 19 victims reported a conviction in their case.

Cybercrime victims are often targeted by a combination of multiple online crimes. Few respondents were the victim of a cyber-dependent crime alone. Interviews also underlined how police organizations are currently ill-equipped to take down explicit images hosted by private organizations all around the world. Victims of identify fraud and sexual abuse are dependent on help to block damaging content and stop the ongoing victimization. Finally, interviewees also pointed to police officers suffering from a knowledge deficit when it comes to handling online crimes. As a result, they sometimes do not take victims seriously or do not offer the option of filing a report, even when it is possible. Given that online crimes are accounting for a growing share of total crime, regularly updating police officers’ knowledge of online offenses would be highly desirable.

Victims of cybercrime are not always recognized as such by the police, which suggests that officers need to be better trained and kept updated about online offenses.