Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

The Relationship between Age and Consumer Fraud Victimisation

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

The Relationship between Age and Consumer Fraud Victimisation

Article excerpt

Seventy-two year old Paul from rural Australia, devastated by the death of his wife, used an online dating website to find companionship and met a woman named Selina, from Ghana. They struck up a relationship. One day Paul received a phone call from a man claiming to be Selina's brother. The man told Paul that Selina had been hit by a car and had suffered a brain haemorrhage and asked Paul for $1,200 to cover the costs of the operation. The contact continued for months and the fraudsters used Paul's perceived relationship with Selina to convince him to help her village through the financing of gold refining and butter processing. Paul sent over $200,000 over several months (News. com.au 2009).

Consumer fraud, also known as personal fraud, has been defined as a type of fraud that involves communication between an individual victim and an offender, involving 'deliberate deception of the victim with the promise of goods, services or other benefits that are non-existent, unnecessary, were never intended to be provided, or were grossly misrepresented' (Titus & Gover 2001:2). As the example above demonstrates, the ramifications of fraud can be devastating both financially and emotionally.

Fraudsters use a wide range of communication methods to commit consumer fraud (Budd & Anderson 2011). While in the past fraudulent invitations were primarily sent through postal services or made face-to-face, the digital age has seen an increase in the use of electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones to deliver consumer fraud invitations to people of all ages (Reyns 2013; Reisig & Holtfreter 2013). Fraud methods are continually adapted to advancing technologies and emerging trends in computer use, challenging authorities and fraud-prevention agencies to develop effective responses to the problem.

Keeping up with developments in online fraud activity will continue to be a key concern for authorities, given the widespread assumption that consumer fraud is likely to increase with greater advances in technology (Holtfreter, van Slyke & Blomberg 2005). Given this, it is important to fully understand the risks and protective factors that mediate an individual's likelihood of victimisation.

One such factor identified in the literature relates to the consumer fraud vulnerabilities associated with age (Fischer, Lea & Evans 2013). This paper explores the risk of consumer fraud victimisation at different ages, with the aim of identifying particular points for intervention.

The relationship between age and consumer fraud

Drawing on Cohen and Felson's (1979) routine activity theory, Pratt, Holtfreter and Reisig (2010) argue that advances in technology and the daily use of the internet for shopping, work and communication constitute a structural change in everyday routine that may bring people into more frequent contact with motivated fraud offenders. This risk is exacerbated by the absence of effective guardianship in the online world which might prevent fraud from occurring. With more daily activities like banking, shopping and socialising conducted via the internet it is important to understand how this impacts the risks of fraud victimisation associated with different ages and stages of life.

Previous research has identified two potential age-related risk factors for fraud victimisation: younger people may be at more risk of consumer fraud because they use a wide range of technologies (Titus, Heinzelmann & Boyle 1995), while some older people may be at greater risk because they are seen as attractive targets with potential access to life savings (Cohen 2006) who may suffer impaired decision-making due to ageing (Scheibe et al. 2014).

Reisig and Holtfreter (2013) note that, while a reliable demographic profile of victims has not been observed in prior studies, those aged over 60 were particularly vulnerable to consumer fraud. The authors caution that some research focuses on types of consumer fraud that typically affect older people, thereby biasing the results. …

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