DAPM: Detecting and Preventing Mass-Marketing Fraud (MMF)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: WMG

Abstract

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.

Planned Impact

This project has been designed to have maximum societal and economic impact, both nationally and internationally. Notably, we have 16 partners involved, all of whom would benefit from the programme; however, we envisage much further reach beyond our partners (many of which are willing to disseminate beyond their organisations). The beneficiaries and how they will benefit are listed below:

Law enforcement/intelligence: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies included in this project span various countries including: UK (City of London Police, Action Fraud, National Fraud Intelligence Bureau), USA (Federal Trade Commission), Canada (Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and Australia (Western Australian Police). The work co-created here will help them with tracing criminals and collecting appropriate forensic evidence to help increase chances of successful prosecution and social legitimacy that arise as a consequence. Law enforcement agencies are also keen to support 'disruption strategies'; that is, find ways to prevent individuals from becoming scammed in the first place and to reduce the scale of those frauds that occur. The work here contributes to this agenda.

Regulatory bodies: Regulatory bodies are public authority or government agencies responsible for exercising autonomous authority over some area of human activity in a regulatory or supervisory capacity - some also work as prosecuting bodies. In the main they codify and enforce rules and regulations and impose supervision for the benefit of citizens. Some sectors set up their own bodies to regulate that sector, setting up codes of practices. We have a number of such bodies as partners on our project (national and international), including: Trading Standards, National Trading Standards Board, Online Dating Association, Federal Trade Commission and Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. The work conducted in this project will help develop guidelines and practices that the organisations can enforce or promote via self-regulation.

Industry: Many different types of industry are affected by MMF, given that scammers inhabit their sites and/or target their clients. This ultimately can lead to a loss of earnings as well as a loss of trust to the industry partner (leading to greater financially losses). We have some industry partners (Mymateyourdate, Barclays) as well as partners who can introduce us to many more (Online Dating Association, Women's Fraud Network). Moreover, we anticipate that our findings will be of use to many industry organisations both nationally and abroad. Industry can use the work conducted in this project to prevent scammers from inhabiting their sites and victimising their clients - ultimately leading to a greater trust in their product. Moreover, one of our industry partners (Scamalytics) can use the science developed here to improve their product (as with any other organisation who develops software to detect scammers).

Third sector: We have a number of third sector organisations partners on the project, including those who work to protect industry (CIFAS, Women's Fraud Network, Fraud help desk). These partners and others (e.g., charities, community groups etc.) we envisage will be able to draw from our findings to help prevent MMF and repeat victimisation to industry as well as individuals.

UK citizens and citizens abroad: Most importantly, the work we propose here should go some way into preventing MMF - a crime with financial and often psychological impacts, which affect not only the person who has been defrauded but also those in their social networks (family, friends). Moreover, the methods to protect these individuals will consider their rights and attitudes to privacy when choosing personal data for use in detection and prevention tools. Citizens will be included in studies throughout the project.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/N028112/1 29/07/2016 30/08/2016 £845,177
EP/N028112/2 Transfer EP/N028112/1 01/09/2016 31/12/2018 £841,965
 
Description Algorithms have been developed to distinguish suspect dating site profiles from others
Global mapping of victims and fraudsters
Stages of typical fraudster-victim interaction have been classified
Semantic markers of West African SMS exchanges have been identified
Psychological typology of victims has been developed
Work on the responsibility of repeat victims for some of their losses
Exploitation Route Algorithms are of use to dating websites
Global mapping, semantic markers, stages of victim-fraudster interaction of use to law enforcement agencies
Psychological typologies of use to agencies
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/wmg/research/csc/research/dapm/results/
 
Description Gumtree-the online advertising site--is currently taking advice from DAPM about fraud-prevention. Similarly for the non-academic partners in the project.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Stringhini, G., provided evidence to the International Relations Committee of the House of Lords on cybercrime risks to the UK, specifically mass marketing fraud. 07/03/18
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/e71e81ae-0e37-41d5-8827-67be7c8ea628
 
Description "There's a scam out there for everyone": An examination of the scammers' tricks employed in two types of mass-marketing frauds - work-at-home and romance scams. Invited Talk for the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, 15th December 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2016, December). "There's a scam out there for everyone": An examination of the scammers' tricks employed in two types of mass-marketing frauds - work-at-home and romance scams. Invited Talk for the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, 15th December 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description DAPM Stakeholder meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This project focuses on understanding why individuals are scammed online, the stages involved in these scams, who is likely to become a victim and how these scams can be detected. The stakeholder meeting is a way to disseminate findings across a wide variety of sectors and share knowledge and expertise. Speakers include colleagues from the City of London Police and an ex-Federal Trade Commission expert on consumer fraud. There will also be a focus on the work that has been undertaken as part of the DAPM project, including:

- Psychological impact of cyber fraud on victims
- Automatic and human detection of cyberscams
- Predicting who will be a scam victim
- Characteristics of different types of scams
- Ethics considerations around scams
- Current cyber scam concerns

Attendees made connections with other professionals and academics. Discussions were had regarding ongoing working relationships once the project came to an end in December 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Detecting and preventing cyberscams- GCHQ, Cheltenham, 17th December 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, November). Detecting and preventing cyberscams. GCHQ, Cheltenham, 17th December 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Event in London 24 November 2017 on data science, ethics and cybersecurity. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Event in London 24 November 2017 on data science, ethics and cybersecurity. A well-attended meeting on data science, ethics and cybersecurity was held jointly by IERG and the Research Institute for the Science of Cybersecurity. RISCS Nov Event Schedule:
10-11 How to apply ethics in three kinds of digital research space IERG Research ethics
Big data ethics
Cybersecurity ethics
11-12 Cybersecurity for whom?
Lizzie Kemp Coles
Monica
RUSI
Here the topic is tensions between cybersecurity requirements of out- groups (like refugees) and cybersecurity requirements of mainstream institutions, individuals --Lizzie Kemp Coles works wth out groups, Angela Sasse with others
12-13 Ethical collection and security for big data: the HAT project Xiao Chris to chair
13-14 Lunch

14-15 Research Ethics Issues: Open Source and Bulk Collection UK RIO and Paul Iganski Oversight Processes, Anonymity, Secondary Use

15-16 Countering threats (CREST anti-radicalization) PERICLES, Carl Miller
Kat to chair
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/pais/research/researchcentres/ierg/news/event_in_london/
 
Description Paper on pedophile hunting and scambaiting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Tom Sorell presented a paper on pedophile hunting and scambaiting at a conference on digilantism at University of Montreal on 3 November 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Persuasive strategies employed by cyberfraudsters- Gumtree event, London, July 3rd, 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, July). Persuasive strategies employed by cyberfraudsters. Gumtree event, London, July 3rd, 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Romance scam: The hyperpersonal effect. Workshop on Security and Human Behaviour, University of Cambridge, May 24-25th, 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, May). Romance scam: The hyperpersonal effect. Workshop on Security and Human Behaviour, University of Cambridge, May 24-25th, 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/shb17/
 
Description Tackling MMF from a Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Invited talk for Silence of the scams: Progress, practice and prevention conference. Brunel, University 29th September, 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Whitty, M. (September, 2016). Tackling MMF from a Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Invited talk for Silence of the scams: Progress, practice and prevention conference. Brunel, University 29th September, 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/2016/Silence-of-the-Scams-Progress-Practice-and-Prev...
 
Description The Cost of Scams and Financial Abuse: Working together to protect residents from harm, Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading standards conference, 25th January 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, January). Comparisons across cyber-enabled mass marketing frauds. The Cost of Scams and Financial Abuse: Working together to protect residents from harm, Buckinghamshire & Surrey Trading standards conference, 25th January 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description The online dating romance scam. People in Security Conference, Portsmouth, 7-8th February, 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, February). The online dating romance scam. People in Security Conference, Portsmouth, 7-8th February, 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Tom Sorell and Monica Whitty presented a joint paper on Victim-Offenders in Scams at a conference on Cybercrime held at Nuffield College, Oxford on 13th June 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The paper presented draws on a soon-to-be submitted co-authored paper, 'Romance Scams and Victimhood' connected to the ongoing EPSRC-funded DAPM project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Why guardianship behaviours don't also prevent scams. Gumtree event, London, June 5th, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Whitty, M. T. (2017, June). Why guardianship behaviours don't also prevent scams. Gumtree event, London, June 5th, 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017