‘Bought it, but Never Got it’ Assessing Risk Factors for Online Consumer Fraud Victimization

Authors: Johan van Wilsem
Publication: European Sociological Review
Year: 2011

Relevance: Understanding the relationship between online behavior, self-control, and fraud victimization could help identify those who are most vulnerable for fraud, why, and how best to protect them.

Summary: Using a large-scale survey of more than 6,000 Dutch adults, the authors conducted a survey to identify what – if any – factors would be tied to increase risk of fraud victimization. Demographics, online behavior, and a psychological survey measure of self control were used.

“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).

  • Demographics: “Respondents 35 or younger are more likely to be victimized (4%), while respondents 55 years or older face very low risks (~0.5 per cent). No clear differences were found for sex, educational level, and urbanism” (van Wilsem 2011; p. 5).
  • Behavior and Self-control: Active online shopping, participation in forums, and low-self control all correlated with increased rates of victimization:
    • A 20 year-old, educated, active online shopper who participates in forums and scores high on the “low self-control” measure has 43.1% probability of being victimized by Internet fraud.
    • This compares to a similar participant profile who does not participate in forums and scores as having high self-control (9.9% victimization probability), or a lower-educated, non-forum participant with low self-control (10.1% victimization probability) (p. 8).

Author Abstract: Consumer fraud seems to be widespread, yet little research is devoted to understanding why certain social groups are more vulnerable to this type of victimization than others. This article deals with Internet consumer fraud victimization, and uses an explanatory model that combines insights from self-control theory and routine activity theory. The results from large-scale victimization survey data among the Dutch general population (N¼6,201) reveal that people with low self-control run substantially higher victimization risk, as well as active online shoppers and people participating in online forums. Though a share of the link between low self-control and victimization is indirect— because impulsive people are more involved in risk enhancing online routine activities—a large direct effect remains. This suggests that, within similar situations, people with low self-control respond differently to deceptive online commercial offers.

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