Computer Crime Victimization and Integrated Theory: An Empirical Assessment

By Choi, Kyung-shick | International Journal of Cyber Criminology, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Computer Crime Victimization and Integrated Theory: An Empirical Assessment


Choi, Kyung-shick, International Journal of Cyber Criminology


Introduction

Cyber crime has the potential to affect everyone's daily activities. Society depends heavily on computer technology for almost everything in life. Computer technology use ranges from individual consumer sales to processing billions of dollars in the banking and financial industries. The rapid development of technology is also increasing dependency on computer systems. Today, computer criminals are using this increased dependency as a significant opportunity to engage in illicit or delinquent behaviors.

It is almost impossible to have precise statistics on the number of computer crime and the monetary loss to victims because computer crimes are rarely detected by victims or reported to authorities (Standler 2002). In addition, policing in cyberspace is very scarce (Britz 2004). Moreover, the sophistication of computer criminal acts, by the criminals utilizing anonymous re-mailers, encryption devices, and accessing third-party systems to commit an offense for the original target, makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to apprehend and prosecute the offenders (Furnell 2002; Grabosky & Smith 2001; Yar 2005). This could, arguably, become a real threat to our lives. However, the general population has not yet fully recognized the overall impact of computer crime.

The purpose of this study is to estimate patterns of computer-crime victimization by applying routine activities theory. This shall be done by presenting the argument that Cohen and Felson's (1979) routine activities theory is actually an expansion of Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garofalo's (1978) life-exposure theory. One of the main concepts from life-exposure theory, lifestyle variables, is arguably what Cohen and Felson (1979) refer to in routine activities theory as their target suitability component. It is these lifestyle variables that contribute to potential computer-crime victimization. The concept of interest is individuals' daily patterns of routine activities, including vocational activities and leisure activities, in cyberspace that increase the potential for computer-crime victimization. Also of importance is one of the three major tenets from routine activities theory, "capable guardianship." The tenet of interest is how computer security, as an important capable guardian in cyberspace, plays a major role against computer-crime victimization.

Most people are confused about the difference between cyber-crime and computer crime. In fact, some cyber crime authors do not appropriately separate the use of the terms. Therefore, before looking into the details on computer-crime victimization, it is necessary to define the difference between cyber crime and computer crime.

Casey (2001) defines cyber crime as "any crime that involves computers and networks, including crimes that do not rely heavily on computers" (p. 8). Thomas and Loader (2000) also note that cyber crime is "computer-mediated activities which are either illegal or considered illicit by certain parties and which can be conducted through global electronic networks" (p. 3). Basically, cyber crimes cover wide categories of crime in cyberspace or on the World Wide Web including, "computer-assisted crimes" and "computer-focused crimes" (Furnell 2002, p. 22).

In general, special computer operating skills are not required to commit cyber crime. For example, a suspect and a victim may communicate via Web based chat-rooms, Microsoft Network messenger (MSN), or e-mail. Once the criminal gains the potential victim's trust, the criminal is in the position to commit a crime against the victim. In this case, even though the Internet probably assisted the suspect in communicating with the victim, it does not mean that the technology or the Internet caused the crime (Casey 2000). Indeed, in computer-assisted crimes, a computer does not have to play a major role in the crime. It can merely be the tool that is used by the suspect that assists in facilitating the eventual offense such as in the case of fraud or in a confidence scam. …

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