Who can spot an online romance scam?

Date01 April 2019
Publication Date01 April 2019
AuthorMonica T. Whitty
SubjectAccounting & Finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial crime
Who can spot an online
romance scam?
Monica T. Whitty
Department of Media and Communications, University of Melbourne, Melbourne,
Australia and Cyber Security Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
Purpose This paper aims to examine predictors(personality, belief systems, expertise and responsetime)
of detectingonline romance scams.
Design/methodology/approach The onlinestudy asked 261 participants to rate whethera prole was
a scam or a genuine prole. Participantswere also asked to complete a personality inventory, belief scalesand
demographic,descriptive questions. The online study was alsodesigned to measure response time.
Findings It was found that those who scored low in romantic beliefs, high in impulsivity, high in
considerationof future consequences, had previously spotted a romance scamand took longer response times
were more likely to accuratelydistinguish scams from genuine proles.Notably, the research also found that
it was difcult to detect scams. The research also found that it was important to adapt Whittys (2013)
Scammers Persuasive Techniques Modelto include a stage named: human detection of scam versus
genuine proles.
Originality/value This is the rst study, to the authorsknowledge, that examines predictors of human
accuracy in detecting romance scams. Dating sites and government e-safety sites might draw upon these
ndings to help improve human detectionand protect users from this nancial and psychologically harmful
Keywords Fraud, Cyber security, Cyber scams, Human detection, Romance scam
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Online romance scams are one of the most common and lucrative (for criminals) cyber-
enabled scams (ACCC, 2016;ONS, 2016;Whitty and Buchanan, 2012). In these scams,
criminals create fake online proles on dating sites and social networking sites (e.g.
Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn)to draw individuals into relationships with the intention to trick
them out of money. These fake proles include stolen photographs (e.g. attractive models,
army ofcers) and the creation of a false identity.Some victims are quite traumatised by the
experience, suffering a double hitof nanciallosses and the loss of a relationship (Whitty
and Buchanan, 2016). There is, therefore, an urgent need to protect online daters.
Understanding who is more likely to be tricked by a romance scam can potentially help
improve guidelines and educational training programmes developed to protect users of
these sites.
Previous research has examined the persuasive strategies used by criminals and the
decision-making errors made by victims who are drawn into these scams (Gregory and
Bistra, 2012;Whitty, 2013, 2015). Researchers have also examined the psychological
characteristics of victims compared with non-victims (Buchanan and Whitty, 2014;Whitty,
2018). Whilst there might be some overlap between victims and those who are unable to
This work was support by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [EP/N028112/1].
Who can spot
an online
romance scam?
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.26 No. 2, 2019
pp. 623-633
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-06-2018-0053
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