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Home > Reviews > Cyber Frauds

Cyber Frauds

Author Mark Button and Cassandra Cross

ISBN No 9781138931206

Review date 27/06/2019

No of pages 232

Publisher Routledge

Publisher URL

Year of publication 30/06/2017


Our Review


£ 31.99

Fraud is little covered in print compared with some other crimes, and cyber fraud even more so, which makes a new book so welcome, by an English and Australian pair of academics, writes Mark Rowe.

Cyber Frauds, Scams and their Victims by Prof Mark Button (University of Portsmouth), and Dr Cassandra Cross (Queensland University of Technology) covers precisely what it says, and covers it well, and in the right order, starting with definitions. They've come up with a word that's new to me; 'fraudogenic'.

Certainly new technology has brought new opportunities for fraudsters, although we can argue whether the crimes are entirely new, or whether the internet has merely created 'cyber-enabled' frauds; or indeed both. The authors cover this, as so much else, ably, going through the bewilderingly varied sorts of frauds - to do with applying for jobs online, collection of phantom debts; romance fraud, identity fraud, frauds in consumer investments, even adopting a pet.

The victim and technique of a fraud come together in terms of how and why some people fall for a fraud - thanks again to a variety of things, such as 'victim lists' (so that if someone has been scammed, they may be returned to, saying they've been scammed, and they can recover their money or some of it - for a fee). Some of the techniques are mirroring legitimate business, such as clever and visceral salesmanship, and grooming.

On victims, the authors set out that fraud is anything but a 'victimless crime' as many are embarrassed, or angry, besides the financial loss. While it's worthwhile and proper to support victims, and indeed respond to the crime in terms of victims, the book does set out stereotypes against online fraud victims - that they are 'greedy, gullible, uneducated and somewhat deserving of their victimisation'. That can make victims less likely to report crimes, with baleful effects, such as society not appreciating how serious or widespread the crime is. Nor, as some of the victims' stories in their own words make plain, are those in authority necessarily showing understanding.

Which takes us on to prosecution, and prevention. Here as throughout the book it's a welcome feature - and far from common in such works or any academic literature - that more than the UK is covered; examples are as likely to come from the United States and Canada, and Australia, though some from the non-English speaking world would have been welcome also. Like the authorities in general, the authors point to how important it is to prevent fraud in the first place, given that (among other things) so few fraudsters are ever brought to justice, thanks to attrition (the gaping difference between the sheer number of reported cases, in the millions, and the prosecutions counted in the thousands.

In their conclusion the authors correctly say that they have 'brought together a body of evidence that clearly agitates the need to improve current practices, across the prevention, policing and victim support aspect of these crimes. Like a June 2017 UK National Audit Office (NAO) report into online fraud in Britain, the authors point to examples of good practice, yet argue that these ought to 'become the normalised standard' rather than exceptions. In fairness, the same could be said of other crimes.

One quibble - a comment, rather than a criticism - is with the authors' conclusion. Having set out as they put it 'large inadequacies and areas that require immediate and radical improvement' and suggesting that cyber fraud and scams will probably continue; despite all that, they say they are optimistic. They predict better prevention of frauds, and better support for victims. If that is so, surely it is only by comparison with what has come before. The NAO have painted a bleak picture for the UK of central government (the Home Office), police and banks not doing enough, from not publishing and sharing data, to define the scale and nature of the problem, to the practical problem of catching cyber fraudsters, in another country or even continent, something that the book does set out.

For example, in the final chapter proper, on prevention, the authors do a good job neatly introducing crime prevention theory, and how that applies to cyber fraud. They point out how important opportunity is for crime, and removing opportunity to preventing crime. It's hard to see how the internet is to be made more safe; that there'll ever be fewer suitable victims, out of all the internet users and online shoppers; or how cyber criminals in Cameroon or Russia are to ever hear an arresting police officer's knock on the door, so in other words offenders will be motivated to carry on regardless. Surely if awareness campaigns make some online users more savvy, that will only displace the crime to the less savvy, the same as with any other, 'traditional', crime? And the cyber world will stay invisible compared with the physical, real-world crime of robberies, so that it'll be harder to count and appreciate online frauds.

A slighter but more practical quibble is that the index, at two pages, could be fuller. But that is the wrong note to end on, given such a well-written and authoritative work. You'll be hard pressed to find a better round-up and introduction to the subject, that both authors evidently - given their years of publishing on the subject - grasp well.