Carter: When it comes to fraud, people are over-informed and under-protected

Current public fraud protection (aka fraud prevention) messages misrepresent the reality of fraud, says Dr. Elisabeth Carter.


Messages to 'stop', 'say no', 'don't be a victim', 'don't fall for scams' and 'avoid scams by following these three steps', 'never click on any links' , 'don't give money to someone you don't know' do not reflect what fraud is, what it looks like, or provide effective measures for the public to protect themselves.

The result is that the public are over-informed by a plethora of information that is not based on evidence and under-protected because they feel if they follow this advice they will be safe.

Those who are currently being manipulated by fraudsters don't recognise the danger, because the mythical 'red flags' - warning signs - simply don't exist for someone who is in the midst of being groomed.

They can't 'stop-challenge-protect', because there simply is no reason to when your reality has been distorted beyond recognition.

Society believes that victims are stupid, they cannot follow simple messages to protect themselves, or cannot spot, or wilfully ignore, what are styled as obvious warning signs.

Perpetrators groom and psychologically abuse and coerce individuals into complying with requests that will leave them financially and psychologically devastated. They disguise their actions so that many warning signs and alarm bells are hidden and not in plain sight.

The perpetrators do not appear as the shadowy stranger figure they are often represented as: lurking in corners behind laptops with hoodies on, for example. They appear as reputable people, they feel familiar, or appear to be representing companies you recognise, or someone you have known and developed a friendship or relationship with. The criminal will not necessarily be the stranger they are billed to be.

Messages that don't reflect this and make it seem as though you can stop fraud by following a simple set of rules contribute to the victim blaming and shame felt by victims, who blame themselves for the crime, for not protecting themselves well enough.

Ask yourself - if the word 'abuse' or 'coercive control' or 'grooming' was inserted into your "protect messaging", would it still work? Would it seem outrageous? This litmus test needs to be the first port of call.

"Protect messaging" needs to step up and stop inadvertently contributing towards the misunderstandings of fraud as a crime, misunderstandings of victimhood and the shame of becoming a victim. It's time to drop messaging that does not work and start seriously protecting the public.

Every time you see "fall for", victims are given the wrong message. Do victims of domestic abuse fall for it? This is one example of hundreds.

Reporting is disastrously low - only 5-15% of fraud victims ever report it, which means the figure of fraud constituting 41% of all UK crime is tiny compared to what it really is. Victims don't report because they are ashamed.

There is research, there is evidence. It's time to use it and put out messages that will do what we all want it to do - PROTECT.

Dr Elisabeth Carter examines the (ab)uses of language for criminal gain; in particular the ways in which language is used by fraudsters/scammers in all Authorised Push Payment fraud including romance fraud, investment fraud, courier fraud and WhatsApp scams. She uses her research to improve understandings of fraud/scams, improve aftercare and outcomes for victims.


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