Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Finding a Pot of Gold at the End of an Internet Rainbow: Further Examination of Fraudulent Email Solicitation

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Finding a Pot of Gold at the End of an Internet Rainbow: Further Examination of Fraudulent Email Solicitation

Article excerpt

Introduction

New technologies such as the Internet have radically changed the means by which society communicates, conducts business, and engages in recreation. The speed and convenience of the Internet has attracted a critical mass of global users. For the same reasons, Internet transgressors adopted the medium as a new avenue for crime. Many scholars consider the Internet as a medium for crime which consists of the same legal elements and motivations as conventional or street crimes (Brenner, 2001; Grabosky, 2001; Yar, 2005). However, the proliferation of cybercrime indicates that the Internet medium has outstripped traditional forms of social control. First, formal social control institutions rooted in static organizational design and legal tradition lack the appropriate flexibility and resources to deter online fraudulent activities (Wall, 1999, 2000; Walker, Wall, & Akdeniz, 2000; Burns, Whitworth, & Thompson, 2004). Second, the relative anonymity of computer crime and the ability to commit crime from a safe distance are but a few of the attractive features of computer crime that have contributed to its proliferation (Wall, 2001; Grabosky, 2004). Third, users often resist forms of social control imposed on the Internet as an affront to its ethos of unrestricted openness and unfettered exchange of ideas and information (Hafner & Markoff, 1995; Levy, 2001; Lasica, 2005; Lessig, 2005). Nonetheless, the "dark side" of the Internet, representing undesirable activities ranging from the invasion of privacy to the unsolicited distribution of obscene pornographic materials, exists as a reflection of society (Kleinrock, 2004).

The current research focuses on the changing modus operandi through which crime is committed. Particularly, we elaborate on the relatively scant research that focuses on two of the oldest forms of crime, fraud and deception, as they currently exist in the information age (Lyon, 1988; Alberts, Papp, & Kemp III, 1997; Castells, 2000). The social sciences has largely discounted online fraudulent activity is being a nuisance of the digital technology. However, it represents a very harmful activity that has been facilitated purely by the Internet and has presented new risks that threaten the communications and commercial infrastructures (Wall, 2005).

The present study used data gathered from a sample of online fraud attempts from two computers in the form of unsolicited mass emails, commonly known as "spam," 4 over a two-month period. These results are generally considered with regard to earlier research that also addressed the nature of advance fee email solicitations (Dyrud, 2005; Holt and Graves, 2007). Thomas Holt and Danielle Graves (2007) earlier conducted a study similar to the present work by examining 412 fraudulent email messages and analyzing the mechanisms used by email scammers. Particularly, the researchers analyzed the structure and content, and the linguistic compositions within the email solicitations. Among the findings, Holt and Graves noted that roughly half of the email messages requested that recipients forward personal information to the sender. Their research closely resembles the present study, and finding from their work are discussed throughout the Discussion section of the present work. The studies differ in that the present work provides a deeper analysis and deconstruction of the email content and foregoes examination of the language patterns found in Holt and Graves' study.

The present study contributes to the literature primarily through providing advanced analyses of the content within the email solicitations, and offering a basis of comparison for the findings from the Holt and Graves study. The authors seek to give insight into the structural and economic motivations for the perpetuation and nature of spam and online fraud. The focus of the research is the issue of gaining trust in order to deceive potential victims. Dyrud's (2005: 9-10) similar method of linguistic analysis of Nigerian 419 letters concludes that "scammers are accomplished persuaders who garner substantial, albeit unethical, rewards for their efforts. …

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