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Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Internet Fraud
            Currently, the world boosts over two billion internet users. About ten percent of this number use internet in one way or the other for business related activities. Many entrepreneurs have been bred and nurtured online with the number increasing every day. With internet access, millions of entrepreneurs trade their products and services from all over the world. Ideas likewise are passed globally through the internet. But with every positive innovation that has been introduced, thousands of cloaked and fraud means have been devised. Many legit websites usually highlight methods that have been used previously by fraudsters to ensure that their clients do not fall victims. Many methods both simple and complex have been used to steal from unsuspecting internet users. 

            Fraud.org has listed methods that have been reported by internet users. Some methods are complex and can cost both companies and individual’s great losses, curbing such methods require full attention of IT departments in different companies. Other methods used by fraudsters are easily indentified and curbed but Fraud.org is obligated to highlight all methods that have been used to ensure that global population is aware of such methods. While dealing with some fraud methods require vigilance and heavy investment in IT, some methods can be stopped through educating target population.  
There is a list of TOP 10 Internet scams for 2007 on Fraud.org. The list is made of threats which are equally dangerous for internet-based businesses and ordinary users operating online. There are methods that have been used for decades while some appeared once and have not appeared again. Top on the list are methods that are intricate and have been used in many countries over long periods of time. Here is a quick review of some of the main threats:
1.) Fake check schemes: companies paid with fake checks for products or services delivered. Individuals can also become victims as they might be paid with fake checks for certain products sold through some web platforms. Fraudsters provide high level profiles that their victims can fall for. Clients are provided with enough, fake, evidence that they are less likely to doubt. Making online follow ups after such instances is always very difficult because no physical contacts are provided by such fraudsters.
2.) General merchandise: individuals pay for products that are never delivered to them. Companies can also fall victims to this fraud method. Products being sold vary from small ornamental elements to large products such as vehicles and machines. When large components are involved, the fraudsters mostly have adequate knowledge about their victims and they easily guide them through fake processes. Using strict sales policies that require clients to pay for products fully before they are delivered to them, the fraudsters are able to convince their victims to send money and expect their products to be delivered later.
 3.) Money offers: individuals are asked to send some cash for depositing large sums of money on their personal accounts. Most fraudsters masquerade as direct benefactors of prominent or rich personalities that have passed on. Armed with cover stories about inexperience and security, fraudsters initiate dialogues with their victims but require them to pay some money to facilitate processing of fund transfer. Fraudsters always target many people at a time.
 4.) Lotteries/lottery clubs:  email notifications of some money or prize won even though individuals never bought a ticket to participate in said lottery drawing. This method always tests the greed of email recipients, many people like getting easy money. Such people are likely to respond to emails notifying them about lotteries they have won. Progressively, the fraudsters request the respondents to send money to facilitate processing and transfer of the money.
5) Advance fee loans: promises of issuing a loan no matter how bad individual’s or company’s credit record is. Fraudsters understand that many individuals are constantly faced with financial difficulties and would do anything to get credit advances. Providing loan offers to such companies and individuals only reminds them of how much they need such loans and consequently, they may respond to such emails. Like many other methods used by fraudsters, their tricks terminates with requests for money and credits.
These and other threats can be easily identified if an individual carefully examines contents of a website where an offer is made or carefully reads an incoming email: usually phone numbers and addresses provided in these sources are non-existent and there are a lot of spelling/grammatical mistakes even though the source claims to be based in an English-speaking country. However, there are some methods that are carefully sown and are usually more difficult to detect.
Explaining Deviance
Theories developed to explain conventional crimes can be also successfully applied to Internet fraud. We have chosen Merton’s Strain Theory to explain motives and simulating factors that make people around the globe to engage into Internet-based deviant forms of conduct.
Strain Theory
Merton’s Strain theory (sometimes also referred to as anomie theory and rarely means-ends theory) was written in 1940 (Perdue, 1986). It is very popular today and has been applied to explain high criminality rates in the United States, especially in low-income sections of large cities.
In Merton’s interpretation, anomie involves a situation in which there is an imbalance between the society’s assumptions of what is needed to be successful and the appropriateness of the ways of acquiring those things. The imbalance is between goals and means (Perdue, 1986).
It was noted by some prominent researchers that Merton’s theory perfectly explains high rates of deviant behavior in the United States as compared with other developed countries. It is even better fitted to explain why certain subgroups of American society more often violate social norms and laws than others. Merton listed many factors that determine and are indicative of an individual’s level of conformity with conventional norms- class, race, ethnicity, social status, income etc.  In United States we have a culture which stresses success and economic prosperity associated with it. Everyone is supposed to be successful and if someone stops trying to achieve success, he is considered a looser.
It is not surprising that members of this society, or at least parts of it, tend overlook or show some flexibility on the appropriateness of the means of achieving success.  It is right that institutions of social restraint (like families, churches, and schools) promote conventional means: hard working, ambition, investment into education and some special skills. However, there is very strong opposition to these assumptions about appropriateness of means: It is too tentative for young people to engage in illegal activities which can reap short-term benefits and satisfaction. In some circumstances to violate the law is the easiest and not least important quickest way of achieving “success”.
            It is because success is too overrated and in fact, put over virtue that America has one of highest criminality rates in the world, Merton argues (Perdue, 1986).
            According to Merton, people respond to this dysfunction of goals and means in different ways? To explain this in greater detail, we have to look at Merton’s theory of adaptation:
            1. Conformity refers to people’s unequivocal acceptance of the goals defined by the culture and the conventional norms of achieving them. Merton, perhaps too optimistically, thinks that the majority of people are conformists, as they prefer to abide by laws and follow the norms of conduct even if their access to conventional means is minimized by the circumstances.
            2. Innovation refers to a situation in which people accept socially defined goals but refuse to employ conventional means of achieving them. Innovation explains why is so that uneducated and unemployed people tent to violate law- their access to conventional means of achieving goals is limited but they still want to be successful.
            3. Ritualism refers to a situation in which a person is committed to socially defined practices which would have lead him to success but is not primarily motivated by receiving financial gains. This happens, for example, when an individual works hard but did not inspire by earning big money.
            4. Retreatism occurs when a person abandons both the socially defined goals and means of achieving them. Retreatists stop interacting with the society and often become alcohol or drug addicted.
            5. Rebellion refers to a situation in which a person denies both the socially defined goals and means of achieving them and instead develops his own goals and means. Example of this is abandonment of goals of personal material gains for a public good by social activists (Merton, 1949).
            Merton writes that innovators are people who break rules, violate laws in order to achieve the goals that are advertised everywhere. This means that the society is partially responsible for the increase in criminality rates because its promote goals which in certain circumstances cannot be achieved by certain groups of people through conventional and legal means. Merton believes that “the pressure toward innovation not infrequently erases the distinction between business-like strivings this side of the approved norms and sharp practices beyond the norms” (Purdue, 1986). “The greatest pressures towards innovation” are still at the lower levels, meaning the poor and socially disadvantaged parts of the society. He notes that in lower levels “incentives for success are provided by the established values of the culture and second, the avenues available for moving toward this goal are largely limited by the class structure to those of deviant behavior. It is the combination of the cultural emphasis and the social structure which produces intense pressure for deviation” (Purdue, 1986). “Despite our persisting open-class ideology, advance toward the success-goal is relatively rare and notably difficult for those armed with little formal education and few economic resources” (Purdue, 1986). “Within this context, Al Capone represents the triumph of amoral intelligence over morally prescribed "failure," when the channels of vertical mobility are closed or narrowed in a society which places a high premium on economic affluence and social ascent for all its members” (Purdue, 1986).
As with conventional crimes, there is no one perfect formula to combat internet-based fraud. However with good security checks and due level of diligence individuals and businesses can greatly decrease their exposure to internet-based fraud. Reviews made by victims and other people that have witnessed such frauds can greatly help to curb such crimes. Eliminating online frauds is almost impossible as there are very many users and openings that can be used by the fraudsters. To avoid internet frauds, companies and individuals should be vigilant at all times. They should not trust anything that they encounter online whether the websites they visit are legit or not. Fraud.org on the other side should strive to have a wider following and publish every incidence reported as a part of their bulletin to ensure that many people understand the dangers that they face when they trade online.


Marwah, Sanjay, and Mathieu Deflem. (2006).”Revisiting Merton: Continuities in the Theory of Anomie-and-Opportunity-Structures,” pp. 57-76 in Sociological Theory and Criminological Research: Views from Europe and the United States.
Merton, Robert K. (1949). Social structure and anomie: Revisions and extensions. In R.N. Anshen (Ed.), The family: Its functions and destiny, pp. 226-257, New York: Harper.
National Consumers League’s Fraud Center. 2007 Top 10 Internet Scams at http:// www.fraud.org
Purdue, William D. (1986). Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

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