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Currently, there are more than two billion active Internet users. About ten percent of this number uses the Internet in order to operate financial and business related activities. Many entrepreneurs have been bred and nurtured online, with their number increasing every day. Having the 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 of the fraud schemes. Many methods, both simple and complex, have been used to steal money, or personal information from the unsuspecting Internet users. The essay examines the list of the Internet fraud technologies and schemes available on the Fraud.org, and studies why people worldwide tend to violate the law using the World Wide Web.
Fraud.org has listed methods that have been reported by the Internet users from different corners of the country and the world. Some methods are complex and can cost both businesses and individuals great losses; curbing such methods requires full attention of the IT departments in different companies. Other methods used by fraudsters are easily identified and curbed, and Fraud.org is obligated to highlight all methods that have been used to ensure that the global Internet community is aware of such methods. While dealing with some fraud methods require vigilance and heavy investment in the IT, some methods can be stopped through educating the target population.
There is a list of the TOP 10 Internet scams for 2007 available on Fraud.org. The list is made of threats, which are equally dangerous for the Internet-based businesses and ordinary users operating their personal data online. There are methods that have been used for decades, while some appeared to be used once, and had not appeared again in the future. Top on the list are methods that are intricate and have been used in many countries over the long periods of time. Here is a quick review of some of the main threats:
1. Fake check schemes: according to the scheme, companies (businesses) are paid with fake checks for products or services delivered to some unknown people. Individuals can also become victims as they might be paid with fake checks for certain products sold through some web platforms. Fraudsters provide a high level profiles that their victims can fall for. Clients are provided with enough fake evidence that they are less likely to have doubt in. Making online follow up, after such instances take place, is always very difficult because no physical contacts and personal information are provided by such fraudsters.
2. General merchandise: according to the scheme, 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 furniture, vehicles, and other machines. When large subjects are involved, the fraudsters mostly have adequate knowledge about their victims, and they easily guide them through the fake processes ensuring that the victim does not hesitate or have doubt in the authenticity of the service. 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: according to the fraud scheme, individuals are asked to send some cash for depositing large sums of money on their personal accounts. Most fraudsters masquerade claiming to be direct benefactors of prominent or rich personalities that have passed on. Armed with cover stories about inexperience and insecurity, fraudsters initiate dialogues with their victims and ask them to pay some money to facilitate processing the transferring of funds. Fraudsters always target many people at a time, usually by sending junk emails.
4. Lotteries/lottery clubs: when this fraud scheme is used, a user receives an email notification about some money or prize won even though individuals never bought a ticket to participate in the said lottery drawing. This method always tests the greed of the email recipients, as a lot of people would like to get easy money. Such people are likely to respond to emails notifying them about lotteries they have won. The next step, the fraudsters request the respondents to send money to facilitate processing and transfer of money to their home, or personal bank account.
5) Advance fee loans: according to this scheme, some bank or financial organization promises to issue a loan to the individual/business, no matter how bad individual’s or company’s credit record is. Fraudsters understand that many individuals/businesses are constantly faced with financial difficulties, and would do anything to get the credit advances. Providing loan offers to such companies and individuals, the Internet frauds remind them of how much they need such loans; and consequently, many people are likely to 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 the 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 company/website 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 the Internet Deviance
Theories developed to explain the conventional crimes can be also successfully applied to the Internet fraud. We have chosen Merton’s Strain Theory to explain motives and simulating factors that make people around the globe engage into the Internet-based deviant forms of conduct.
Strain theory (sometimes also referred to as Anomie theory, and rarely as Means-ends theory) was created in the year 1940 by Robert King Merton (Perdue, 1986). It is very popular today, and has been applied to explain high criminality rates in the United States, especially in low-income sectors of large cities.
According to Merton’s interpretation, anomie involves a situation, in which there is an imbalance between the society’s assumptions of what is needed for a person to be successful and the appropriateness of the ways of acquiring those things. The imbalance occurs between the goals and the means to reach them (Perdue, 1986).
It was noted by some prominent researchers that strain theory perfectly explains high rates of deviant behavior in the United States as compared to other developed countries. It is even better fitted to explain why certain subgroups of the American society more often violate social norms and laws than others do. Merton listed many factors that determine and are indicative of an individual’s level of conformity with conventional norms, such as class, race, ethnicity, social status, income etc. In the United States, there is a culture which values and stresses success and economic prosperity associated with it. Everyone is supposed to be successful, and if someone gives up trying to achieve success, he/she is considered to be a loser.
It is not surprising that members of this society, or at least parts of it, tend to overlook or show some flexibility on the appropriateness of the means of achieving success. It is true that institutions of social restraint (like families, churches, and schools) promote conventional means: hard working, ambition, investment into education, and development of some special skills. However, there is a very strong opposition to these assumptions about the appropriateness of these means: It is too tentative for young people to engage in illegal activities, which can reap short-term benefits and satisfaction. Under some circumstances, to violate the law is the easiest and not the least important quickest way of achieving “success”.
Merton argues that it is because success is too overrated and, in fact, put over virtue that America has one of the highest criminality rates in the world (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 set by the society they live in, even if their access to conventional means is minimized by different 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 it is so that uneducated and unemployed people tend to violate the law. Concerning the Internet activity, conformists study hard and then find a legal job to earn money. However, access to conventional means of achieving goals is limited to some people, 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 led him/her to success, but he/she is not primarily motivated by receiving financial gains. This happens, for example, when an individual works hard but receives no inspiration or stimulation by earning extra 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. This group of people has no influence on the Internet users, as they are not able to interact with people online.
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/her own goals and means. Example of this is abandonment of goals of personal material gains for 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 it promotes goals, which under 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). People have skills and want to apply them to gain money, if they are not allowed to do this, they usually use different fraud schemes (including the Internet means) to get easy money and succeed. “The greatest pressures towards innovation” are still posed at the lower levels of the society, meaning that the poor and socially disadvantaged groups of the society are influenced by it. He notes that people having a lower level of income “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). Purdue (1986) argues, “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”. “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 perfect formula to combat the Internet-based fraud. However, with good security checks and due to level of diligence individuals and businesses can greatly decrease their exposure to the Internet-based fraud. Reviews, made by victims and other people that have witnessed such frauds, can greatly help to curb such crimes. Eliminating all online frauds is almost impossible, as there are very many users and openings that can be used by the fraudsters. To avoid the 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 go on gathering the facts 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.