Routine Online Activity and Internet Fraud Targeting: Extending the Generality of Routine Activity Theory

Authors: Travis C. Pratt, Kristy Holtfreter & Michael D. Reisig

Publication: Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency

Year: 2010

Relevance: Routine behavior has been established as a reliable predictor of various forms of crime victimization.

Summary: Given the prevalence of fraud-related crime online, this study surveyed 922 Floridian adults (survey conducted in 2004-2005) explore the connection between relevant online behavior (such as online shopping) and the likelihood of online consumer fraud.

“Of all respondents, 2.5 per cent indicated they were the victim of Internet consumer fraud during the past year” (van Wilsem 2011; p. 5), with an estimated 300,000 people defrauded annually in The Netherlands (p. 7).

  • 15.2% of the Florida adults survey respondents described being targets of consumer fraud in the previous year (2004). (p. 11)
  • 3% of respondents reported being targeted via the internet.
  • “Younger and more educated individuals are significantly more likely to be targets of consumer fraud via the Internet.” (p. 16) but “the effect of education and age on Internet fraud targeting is fully explained by the number of hours consumers spend online and whether they make purchases from Internet Web sites.” (p. 16)
  • Accounting for age, education, and other demographic variables, “those who make purchases from Web site increase the odds that they will be targeted by cyber-fraudsters by 290 percent.” (p. 16)

Overall, consumer behavior online is a greater predictor of victimization than demographic characteristics. (p. 16)

Author Abstract: Routine activity theory predicts that changes in legitimate opportunity structures (e.g., technology) can increase the convergence of motivated offenders and suitable targets in the absence of capable guardianship. The Internet has fundamentally changed consumer practices and has simultaneously expanded opportunities for cyber-fraudsters to target online consumers. The authors draw on routine activity theory and consumer behavior research to understand how personal characteristics and online routines increase people’s exposure to motivated offenders. Using a representative sample of 922 adults from a statewide survey in Florida, the results of the regression models are consistent with prior research in that sociodemographic characteristics shape routine online activity (e.g., spending time online and making online purchases). Furthermore, indicators of routine online activity fully mediate the effect of sociodemographic characteristics on the likelihood of being targeted for fraud online. These findings support the routine activity perspective and provide a theoretically informed direction for situational crime prevention in a largely unexplored consumer context.

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