Fraud can be broadly defined as trickery used to gain a dishonest advantage, usually financial, over another person or organisation. Mass-marketing fraud (MMF) is a type of fraud that exploits mass communication techniques (e.g., email, Instant Messenger, bulk mailing, social networking sites, telemarketing) to con people out of money. It is a scam that targets victims in most countries. The 419 or 'Nigerian' scam is one example. In this scam the fraudster requests upfront fees with the promise that the victim will recover large sums of money in return for little effort. However, not all mass-marketing frauds con the victim with the promise of making large sums of money. In the romance scam, for example, the criminal pretends to develop a romantic relationship with the victims and later requests money to help them, especially in a crisis. In the charity scam, victims believe they are giving money to a genuine charity.
The proposed project will develop novel techniques to detect and prevent MMF. Through its multi-disciplinary approach and close focus on co-designing the solutions with its range of project partners and testing them in-the-wild during live MMF-detection settings, the project will lead not only to new scientific understanding of the anatomy of MMF but also to tools and techniques that can form the basis of practical interventions in tackling such fraud.
Working with partners outside of academic is crucial to the success of this project. Over the years various types of organisations have worked hard to detect and prevent MMF (often in silos) - with some methods appearing to be somewhat effective. Nonetheless, the numbers of victims do not appear to be dissipating. Awareness campaigns have succeeded in alerting the public to this particular crime; however, it is difficult to know if they have reduced the potential number of victims (especially, given that many victims are aware of the crime prior to becoming victims; see Whitty, 2013, in press). Prosecution for this particular crime is very resource intensive, and its effects on crime reduction are unknown. We have chosen partners (national and international) who have specialities in different fields including: law enforcement, intelligence, third sector, and industry. They have different knowledge to share and also can potentially tackle the problem using different methods (e.g., industry can screen out and detect fraudsters, law enforcement can trace criminals and raise awareness, third sector can implement methods to protect citizens and to make them more resilient).
From an academic perspective, a multi-disciplinary approach increases our chances of detection and prevention of this crime. Understanding the types of people susceptible, the situational conditions that make a person more vulnerable, and the methods and materials (e.g., online profiles, messages, communication methods) used to convince the target that the interaction is authentic and persuade them into giving up their money to a fraudster is crucial in the development of methods to combat this problem. Combining this knowledge with more technical knowledge provides us with a much greater capability to detect and prevent. For example, technical indicators, such as phone numbers, IP addresses, links to stolen identity material, stylistic patterns of persuasive messaging provide a much richer understanding of the crime and provides a greater number of variables to assist in detection. In addition, any tool developed in detection of MMF needs to convince the end-user of the likelihood that they are being scammed (which is especially difficult when the criminal is attempting to persuade the victim to believe otherwise). Given this an HCI approach is crucial when developing usable approaches and messages that persuade the potential victim that they are interacting with a criminal. Finally, we need to consider the ethics of the type of personal data we might utilise to detect and prevent MMF.