Research on impact of mass-marketed scams

Authors: Office of Fair Trading

Year: 2006

Relevance: Mass-marketed scams, or broadly-targeted consumer frauds, have a similarly significant impact in the United Kingdom as they do in the U.S.

Summary: This large-scale survey of 11,200 adults covered a wide variety of scams, including lottery, prize, investor, weight-loss, and loan scams.

  • An estimated 6.5% of U.K. adults - 3.2 million people - fall victim to scams every year. (p. 9)
  • U.K. consumers lost an estimated £3.5 billion to scams annually, or about £70 per adult, per year. (p. 9)
    • Leading losses by scam were: £1.17 to holiday club scams, £490 million to high risk investment scams, £420 million to pyramid and get-rich-quick schemes, and £260 to foreign lottery scams (p. 9).

One unusual aspect of the report spoke to repeat victimization: “Findings suggest that on average, a victim has a 30 per cent chance of falling for another scam within the following 12 months” (p. 9).

Additional information was gathered regarding reporting behavior:

  • Less than 5% of people in the U.K. reported scams to the authorities (p. 11) and more than a third failed to even mention their experience to others (p. 35).
  • Nearly 1/3 of victims and 40% of targets claimed that it was not worth taking any action (p. 37).
    • 16% of victims considered it probably not of interest to the authorities (p. 37).
    • 21% of victims who failed to report admitted being too embarrassed to come forward (p. 37).
  • For those who did report, 57% did so to ensure that it didn’t happen to anyone else (p. 38)

There was no indication that older adults were more likely to be victimized, though they did appear to be more targeted (p. 28).

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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