Guest commentator: Dr Russell G Smith
Principal Criminologist, Australian Institute of Criminology
How much information should government departments provide in order to help guard against fraud? When does information become 'criminogenic'?
The term 'criminogenic' refers to the way information designed to prevent crime can inadvertently enable perpetrators to commit crime by making it more accessible or attractive.
Government departments often communicate to the public about complex and technologically sophisticated fraud methodologies in order to alert people to ways in which they can best protect themselves.
There is a temptation in times of easy and immediate communications to provide consumers with everything they need to know about how to protect themselves from fraud and dishonesty. Unfortunately, this cannot only assist consumers, but also potential offenders who are just as adept at surfing the fraud prevention web as those of us at risk of being victimised.
Fraud prevention advice can be misused to promote illegal behaviour in three main ways:
- By providing detail on how fraud can be perpetrated it can entice people to offend.
- Through providing information that predicts new methods of offending it can keep the criminals up to date with new technologies.
- By providing information on regulatory and enforcement activities that offenders can seek to circumvent.
Developments in payment card security measures is an example of where criminals have discovered the weaknesses of systems in order to commit 'skimming' and 'carding' offences.
In the context of financial crime, communications regarding the reimbursement of credit card fraud losses by banks may lead to laxness, when individuals engage in online transactions. Finally, the way that both offenders and victims are described can occasionally reinforce inappropriate perceptions. Arguably, it is better to describe those who commit fraud as 'criminals' rather than 'scammers' in order to emphasise the full import of their activities.
The solutions to these problems lie in striking a balance between the level of fraud prevention information provided and the risks that it may be misused.
Regulators need to understand offenders' motivations and should think carefully about how they are likely to react to fraud prevention initiatives and the subsequent information that flows from them. Before fraud prevention information is disseminated, agencies should engage in pilot testing to assess the impact of the measures.
Evaluative research is also needed to assess if fraud prevention information has been used and misused, so that risks of this nature can be avoided in the future.