Do Offenders [Fraudsters] ‘Collaborate and Listen’? A Quantitative Analysis of Fraudsters’ Decision-making Processes on Active Cybercrime Marketplaces

Published date01 April 2023
AuthorTessa Cole,Jodi Miller
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Do Offenders [Fraudsters]
‘Collaborate and Listen’?
A Quantitative Analysis
of Fraudsters’ Decision-
making Processes on
Active Cybercrime
Tessa Cole1 and Jodi Miller2
Research suggests that an offender–victim overlap within the physical and online
environment exists. Therefore, it is unsurprising that online fraudsters have
victimized each other (i.e., offender-victims) online. However, research is limited
regarding the influence that the situational environment (e.g., online and cyber-
space) has on online offender [fraudster] decision-making processes and their
interactions with other online offenders. The current study uses criminological
and communications theories to explore the influence of the situational envi-
ronment on offenders’ interactions within illicit online marketplaces. A series
of bivariate analyses were run to examine the relationship between the inde-
pendent variables and the three dependent variables. Then, a series of negative
binomial regression models were used to estimate the relationship between the
dependent and independent variables. The findings suggest a positive correla-
tion between messages from fraudsters and offender victims and emphasize the
role individuals’ socially engineered (e.g., deceptive and manipulative) interactions
impact targets, including offender victims.
Cyber fraud, cyber victimization, online fraud, online fraudster, online victimization
Original Article
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
6(1) 25–48, 2023
2023 National Law
University Delhi
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/25166069221144793
1 Independent researcher, Atlanta, USA
2 Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Corresponding author:
Tessa Cole, Independent researcher, Atlanta, USA.
26 Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice 6(1)
Online fraudsters have exploited the capabilities of the internet to defraud targets of
$18.7 billion in the last five years.3 Identity theft is one of the various cybercrime
attacks offenders have used to generate monetary gains from unsuspecting targets
online. Identity theft fraud losses have increased by 316.47% (from $66,815,298
to $278,267,918) from 2017 to 2021.4 The increased losses to identity theft demon-
strate the monetary successes fraudsters have experienced operating online.
Offenders play a fundamental role in the development and completion of an online
fraud event. Still, there is limited research exploring offenders [fraudsters’] individual-
level decision-making processes (i.e., modus operandi) against other offenders (a.k.a.
offender-victims).5 Critical to fraudsters’ individual-level decision-making processes
is their communication with targets (e.g., victims and victim-offenders). For instance,
research indicates that online fraudsters intentionally interact (via written communica-
tions) with targets using socially engineered (SE) characteristics and tactics to obtain
sensitive and financial information for monetary gain.6
In addition to the vital role fraudsters’ SE characteristics and tactics play in an
online fraud event, empirical evidence indicates that the direct situational context
influences offenders’ individual-level decision-making processes through their
interactions (in the physical environment) with other offenders.7 For example,
Topalli et al. observed interactions between offenders, specifically drug dealers,
and found drug dealers would retaliate against those who ripped them off.8
However, there is limited research exploring the influence of the situational context
on offenders’ decision-making processes. What is known about the situational context
as it relates to digital interactions among actors primarily focuses on deceptive users
not criminal users. For instance, Zhou and Zhang’s research indicates deceptive users
3 Internet Crime Complaint Center. (2022). Internet Crime Report 2021.
4 Internet Crime Complaint Center. (2018). 2017 Internet Crime Report; Internet Crime Complaint
Center. (2022). Internet Crime Report 2021.
5 J. FRANKLIN, V. PAXSON, A. PERRIG, & S. SAVAGE (2007). An Inquiry into the Nature and
Causes of the Wealth of Internet Miscreants. Paper presented at the CCS, Alexandria, Virginia; A.
Hutchings & T.J. Holt, A Crime Script Analysis of the Online Stolen Data Market: Table 1, 55(3)
British Journal of Criminology 596–614 (2015); A. Kigerl, Profiling Cybercriminals: Topic
Model Clustering of Carding Forum Member Comment Histories, 36(5) soCial sCienCe Computer
review 591–609 (2018); A. Kigerl, Behind the Scenes of the Underworld: Hierarchical Clustering
of Two Leaked Carding Forum Databases, soCial sCienCe Computer review (2020). https://doi.
org/10.1177/0894439320924735; D. Maimon & E.R. Louderback, Cyber-Dependent Crimes: An
Interdisciplinary Review, the annual review of Criminology (2019); M. Yip, N. Shadbolt & C.
Webber, Why Forums? An Empirical Analysis into the Facilitating Factors of Carding Forums,
Computer & Security (2013); M. Yip, C. Webber & N. Shadbolt, Trust Among Cybercriminals?
Carding Forums, Uncertainty and Implications for Policing, 23(4) poliCing and soCiety 516–539
6 A. Rege, What’s Love Got to Do with It? In exploring online dating sCams and identity fraud
494–512 (2009); hadnagy C. soCial engineering: the art of human haCking (Wiley 2010); Hadnagy
C. soCial engineering: the sCienCe of human haCking (2018); C. Hadnagy, soCial engineering: the
sCienCe of human haCking (Indianapolis, IN: Wiley).
7 see Jacobs & Wright, 2006, p. 7; Topalli et al., 2002.
8 V. Topalli, R. Wright & R. Fornango, Drug Dealers, Robbery and Retaliation. Vulnerability,
Deterrence and the Contagion of Violence, 42(2) British Journal of Criminology 337–351 (2002).

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