Who can spot an online
Monica T. Whitty
Department of Media and Communications, University of Melbourne, Melbourne,
Australia and Cyber Security Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
Purpose –This paper aims to examine predictors(personality, belief systems, expertise and responsetime)
of detectingonline romance scams.
Design/methodology/approach –The onlinestudy asked 261 participants to rate whethera proﬁle was
a scam or a genuine proﬁle. Participantswere also asked to complete a personality inventory, belief scalesand
demographic,descriptive questions. The online study was alsodesigned to measure response time.
Findings –It was found that those who scored low in romantic beliefs, high in impulsivity, high in
considerationof future consequences, had previously spotted a romance scamand took longer response times
were more likely to accuratelydistinguish scams from genuine proﬁles.Notably, the research also found that
it was difﬁcult to detect scams. The research also found that it was important to adapt Whitty’s (2013)
“Scammers Persuasive Techniques Model”to include a stage named: “human detection of scam versus
Originality/value –This is the ﬁrst study, to the author’sknowledge, that examines predictors of human
accuracy in detecting romance scams. Dating sites and government e-safety sites might draw upon these
ﬁndings to help improve human detectionand protect users from this ﬁnancial and psychologically harmful
Keywords Fraud, Cyber security, Cyber scams, Human detection, Romance scam
Paper type Research paper
Online romance scams are one of the most common and lucrative (for criminals) cyber-
enabled scams (ACCC, 2016;ONS, 2016;Whitty and Buchanan, 2012). In these scams,
criminals create fake online proﬁles on dating sites and social networking sites (e.g.
Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn)to draw individuals into relationships with the intention to trick
them out of money. These fake proﬁles include stolen photographs (e.g. attractive models,
army ofﬁcers) and the creation of a false identity.Some victims are quite traumatised by the
experience, suffering a “double hit”of ﬁnanciallosses and the loss of a relationship (Whitty
and Buchanan, 2016). There is, therefore, an urgent need to protect online daters.
Understanding who is more likely to be tricked by a romance scam can potentially help
improve guidelines and educational training programmes developed to protect users of
Previous research has examined the persuasive strategies used by criminals and the
decision-making errors made by victims who are drawn into these scams (Gregory and
Bistra, 2012;Whitty, 2013, 2015). Researchers have also examined the psychological
characteristics of victims compared with non-victims (Buchanan and Whitty, 2014;Whitty,
2018). Whilst there might be some overlap between victims and those who are unable to
This work was support by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council [EP/N028112/1].
Who can spot
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.26 No. 2, 2019
© Emerald Publishing Limited
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