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The Challenges of Dealing with Advance Fee Fraud

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By Kim Miller, Ph.D., CFE
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University

Note: This is the second article in a two-part series.

Among the multiple challenges of prosecuting advance fee fraud, one big obstacle is a lack of resources among law enforcement agencies. When there is little or no financial loss in the crime, there are simply not enough resources to pursue a criminal and the legal system cannot support prosecution.

Another challenge is jurisdiction: Who will prosecute the perpetrator? Since advance fee fraud is perpetuated anonymously and often from outside the United States, the problem is what agency should prosecute the fraudster.

Lack of Information Sharing Hampers Advance Fee Fraud Prosecution

Because advance fee fraud is not a “sexy” crime and often does not involve large financial losses, there are other, more important crimes to prosecute. Most agencies are ill equipped to deal with this type of crime and the dollar figures are generally too small to interest law enforcement agencies.

Currently, there is no national database of advance fee fraud criminals. That is due to a lack of cooperation among law enforcement agencies, which makes sharing information difficult. The lack of information sharing and inter-agency cooperation minimizes the possibilities of pursuing successful investigations and solving advance fee fraud crimes.

Fusion centers for sharing information would overcome these challenges.

Internet’s Structure and Weak Laws Also Impede Fraud Detection

Due to the complexity of the Internet, police agencies find it difficult to identify when, where, by whom and how advance fee fraud crimes occur. When advance fee solicitations occur by mail or telephone, these crimes are prosecuted in the United States under mail and wire fraud legislation.

But the weakness in current laws and the success of advance fee fraud incidents send a positive message to cybercriminals, who become more confident and more disrespectful of law enforcement agencies.

As I noted in my previous blog post, the three main ingredients needed for cybercrime are a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. Advanced fee fraud is a subset of cybercrime. With routine opportunities, no stopgaps and willing victims, advance fee fraudsters continue to thrive.

Victims’ Online Behavior Determines Their Attractiveness to Criminals

Advance fee fraud without any borders has a strong financial impact on society. The behavior of potential victims increases the number of suitable targets.

For example, the more people who use the Internet and Internet banking, the greater the possibility of more suitable targets for criminals. The lack of capable guardians drives criminal activity, not the crimes. The more time a person spends online without oversight, such as in computer labs, schools or the workplace, the more vulnerable he or she is to criminal activity.

With regard to online network environments, certain targets are more valuable to offenders than others. Attractive targets for advance fee fraudsters are people who post their full names, email addresses and other personal information on social networking sites.

Some victims, for instance, make themselves attractive targets by giving out their email address as a point of contact. Email addresses make potential victims easier targets than by posting photos and other more impersonal information.

A victim’s gender can also create an attractive target. As a result, the victim is placed in situations conducive to victimization and soon becomes a victim.

Engaging in routine activities (as noted above) regarding Internet banking, filling out forms online or signing up for free items supplying personal information increases a victim’s exposure to motivated offenders. Be careful to not post any personal information in online obituaries, “fund me” sites, classified ads or dating sites.

The offender, for example, starts a fraud by engaging new victims and repeatedly contacting them online. But through better education of potential victims, these crimes can be reduced.

Prevention and Education Are the Best Methods of Preventing Online Fraud

There are many challenges in dealing with advance fee fraud. But the focus of prevention should be on educating potential victims and preventing further harm. For example, one way to address advance fee fraud is to shift the focus away from apprehending cybercriminals and concentrate on protecting computer users.

To prevent online crimes, we need to create more fraud awareness campaigns and allocate funds for educational resources that focus on proper online behaviors. These education campaigns will provide people with the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure their online safety.

About the Author

Dr. Kim Miller is an adjunct professor of criminal justice in the School of Security and Global Studies at AMU. Her academic credentials include a B.S. in Criminal Justice and an M.S. in Criminal Justice from Kaplan University, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Safety-Criminal Justice from Capella University. She is also a Certified Fraud Examiner, a New Jersey Licensed Private Detective and an online investigator.

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