Fraud Victimization: Risky Business or Just Bad Luck?

Authors: Judy Van Wyk & Michael L. Benson (University of Tennessee)

Publication: American Journal of Criminal Justice

Year: 1997

Focus Area: Profile, Decision Making

Relevance: The degree to which people’s characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors influence their vulnerability to financial fraud remains an open question.  If financial risk-taking, for example, is found to influence a person’s susceptibility, then this tendency could be targeted for more effective fraud prevention.

Summary: Fraud victims are assumed to have characteristics or behaviors (such as taking unsafe risks) that make them more vulnerable to fraud, and thus share partial responsibility for their victimization.  This article investigates the actual influence of financial risk taking on the likelihood of fraud victimization.

  • Surprisingly, an individual’s age and willingness to take financial risks correlates with increased attempted victimization, but not directly to successful victimization.
  • Those who expressed more willingness to take financial risks are more likely to receive a fraud attempt.  It is possible that this difference can be accounted for by selective memory – those more open to financial risks may be inclined to remember fraud approaches, while those who would not conceive of taking such risks quickly forget them.
  • Younger adults are more likely to receive fraud attempts than elderly persons.  Again, this may reflect selective memory, as older adults are more likely to forget negative emotional information (Charles et al, 2003).

It is possible that risk-taking behavior, rather than attitudes toward such behavior, is more significant.  This research suggests that the single greatest determining factor in whether someone will be taken in fraud is whether that person was approached in the first place.  All other demographic and personal characteristics have significantly less predictive power.

Author Abstract: Victimology theory recognizes that the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of potential victims influence the likelihood of criminal victimization. An important question for victimologists is whether potential victims put themselves at risk by engaging in risky behavior or whether victimization is primarily a result of bad luck. While this question has been investigated extensively with respect to street crime victimization, little attempt has been made to apply it to victimization by fraud. This article investigates the influence of attitudes toward financial risk taking on the likelihood of fraud victimization. Using data from a telephone survey of 400 randomly sampled respondents, we find that age and attitudes toward financial risk taking are significantly related to the likelihood of attempted victimizations but not to successful victimizations.

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