The reporting experiences and support needs of victims of online fraud

Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 518
11 August 2016

Although fraud has been practiced throughout history, the advent of the internet has created new and effective avenues for targeting potential victims. Victims of online fraud experience substantial financial and other harms, resulting in annual losses in Australia of more than $2b, significant organisational disruption and devastating human suffering. Prior research in this area has generally been conducted through victim surveys and the analysis of official administrative datasets, but little research has involved speaking with victims of online fraud about their experiences.

This paper presents the results of in-depth interviews conducted with a sample of 80 individuals from across Australia who lodged complaints of online fraud involving losses of $10,000 or more over the preceding four years. Their stories illustrate the financial impact of fraud and the emotional, psychological, interpersonal and physical impacts of their victimisation. They also document the barriers they faced in reporting these crimes. The paper concludes by identifying the support needs of victims of online fraud.

Online fraud poses a substantial threat to the financial and overall wellbeing of Australians. An estimated $8m to $10m is sent overseas every month by Australians as a result of dishonest online invitations (Bradley 2013). The latest report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC 2015) indicates that Australians reported the loss of almost $82m to consumer fraud in 2014; this estimate is based only on reports made to the ACCC and excludes reports made to other organisations and the many cases that are not officially reported. The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates fraud costs Australian victims in excess of $6b a year, and online fraud is responsible for a considerable proportion of this amount (Smith, Jorna, Sweeney & Fuller 2014). The present study explores the nature of these harms, victims’ experiences of reporting to authorities, how victims deal with their fraud victimisation and what support they require to do so.

Fraud involves tricking a victim into providing something of value to an offender such as money, personal details, or explicit images. The technological advances of recent years have seen opportunities and mechanisms for perpetrating fraud proliferate. The internet is one of the principal tools for committing consumer or personal fraud. It provides an efficient means of contacting potential victims, a rich source of personal information and a practical way of securing payments. Consequently, online fraud has developed considerably over the past two decades.

Online fraud victimisation can be defined as ‘the experience of an individual who has responded via the internet to a dishonest invitation, request, notification or offer by providing personal information or money [which] has led to the suffering of a financial or non-financial loss or impact of some kind’ (Cross, Smith & Richards 2014:1).

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Cassandra Cross, Kelly Richards, Russell G. Smith, 2016, The reporting experiences and support needs of victims of online fraud, Australian Institute of Criminology, viewed 24 January 2017, <http://apo.org.au/node/66438>.

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