Predicting individual differences in vulnerability to fraud

  • Martina Dove

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The growing array of scams and the ability to commit fraud from different countries via the Internet makes it difficult for authorities to identify and prosecute offenders, leaving victims without justice. Fraud prevention often concentrates on warning victims about specific scams already in operation, however, such information dates quickly as new scams arise or scammers adapt their techniques. Additionally, Internet security warnings are frequently ignored due to their abundance and the security fatigue felt by users. An individual difference approach to scam prevention has not as yet been adopted by relevant agencies, despite the fact that scammers often focus on those characteristics when targeting potential victims. This approach would allow for more tailor-made advice to potential and repeat victims of fraud.

The aim of the present thesis was to identify individual differences that may be implicated in vulnerability to fraudulent offers in order to develop a valid measure of susceptibility to fraud. In the first study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with fraud victims to explore personal meanings and experiences associated with becoming a victim of fraud. Using a thematic analysis, several diverse reasons emerged for being motivated to respond to and remain engaged with fraudulent offers. These included the personal needs and attributes of the victim; their life circumstances, interpretation of source credibility and the type of persuasion techniques used. These findings, along with available research, theories and models, were used to inform the development of a psychometric measure assessing individual vulnerability to fraud in the second study. The newly developed Susceptibility to Fraud Scale consisted of five subscales measuring compliance, impulsivity, vigilance, the time invested in decisionmaking and belief in justice; the Scale was found to predict previous fraud victimisation, the ability to recognise phishing correspondence, and real-life situations that may be a scam. In the final study, the newly developed scale was tested using a proxy scam situation. Susceptibility to fraud evaluated by the scale was related to the acceptance of false personality feedback (known as the Barnum Effect), with individuals who were more susceptible to fraud, compliant and impulsive, more likely to see themselves as inferior to others. Previous fraud victimisation was connected to impulsivity. The findings also suggested that fraud susceptibility may not always be connected to fraud victimisation.

The newly developed Susceptibility to Fraud Scale is the first scale of its kind. It is based on the various analytical concepts and supported by the evidence of three separate studies, offering new ways of addressing vulnerability to fraud offers. Additionally, the overall findings of this programme of research were used in the formation of the proposed Model of Fraud Susceptibility.
Date of AwardFeb 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorMark Turner (Supervisor), Alessandra Fasulo (Supervisor) & Darren Van Laar (Supervisor)

Cite this