Empirical profiles of online fraud offending


Fraud is perpetrated in high volumes against individuals and businesses in the UK, however, there remains limited data about who is perpetrating these crimes and how. The availability of information and communication technologies has created new and diverse criminal opportunities to perpetrate fraud. This has created new pathways for would-be fraudsters and more diversity in the profile of offenders and patterns in offending. Online fraud offenders can be cybercriminals, serious and organised criminals, and white-collar criminals, but the overlaps between these groups are poorly understood. It is estimated that 70 per cent of fraud has an international ‘element’, though how this pattern relates to fraud perpetrated from within the UK is unclear. Moreover, the seriousness, harm, and technical or technological sophistication is highly variable, ranging from determined and impactful criminal groups, through to one-time fraudsters responding to an opportunity when it is presented. Improving our understanding of the nature of online fraud offending is critical for aligning public policies to the problem.


This research aims to improve our understanding of online fraud offending perpetrated from within the UK. It will systematically analyse the criminal methods and processes involved in the perpetration of these crimes, the opportunities that are exploited by offenders in different social, commercial, technological, or occupational settings (including facilitators in the licit and illicit economy), and where relevant, the business models employed by offenders. The focus on how diverse frauds are perpetrated will be fed into ‘crime scripts’ that break online fraud into its key stages (e.g., preparation, deception, cashing out) and the underlying processes involved. This evidence will be used to develop profiles and ‘types’ of online fraud offending. The evidence will be collected using the following methodologies:

  • Qualitative analysis of case files compiled during criminal investigations into online fraud – these will be collected from five different police force areas and will represent cases assigned to the different tiers of response (ranging from specialist national teams to local police teams).
  • Interviews with the lead investigators for each case included in the above samples.
  • A review of the published literature on online fraud offending, with a specific focus on fraud in the context of situational crime prevention theory.

Project team

Michael Skidmore

Felicity O’Connell

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