Unmasking Cybercrime: The Dark Side of the Digital World

A programmer wearing a hoodie sitting in front of many laptops and computers

The digital age has brought immense benefits to our lives, revolutionising the way we communicate, learn, and conduct business. However, as with any powerful tool, there is a darker side to the internet that must be acknowledged. In his recent mini-class, ACAP’s Criminology Course Leader, Matthew Thurgood, explored the complex world of cybercrime, shedding light on its various forms and the challenges it poses.

Cybercrime encompasses any criminal activity that takes place within or exploits networks of electronic communication, such as the internet. It is important to recognise that, these days, cybercrime extends beyond traditional computer-related offences and includes any offence that relies on technology (Yar and Steinmentz, 2019). While fraud and hacking are commonly associated with cybercrime, the internet itself serves as the enabling force for these activities, making it crucial to shift our focus from devices to the network itself.

Categorising Cyber Offences

David Wall (2001), a prominent authority in the field, has identified four key categories of cyber offences.

Encompasses acts that involve crossing boundaries into other people’s property and causing damage. Examples of cyber-trespass include hacking and website defacement.

Cyber-deceptions and theft:
Involves acts of digital piracy and fraud, where individuals deceive others or steal valuable information or resources.

The distribution of sexual exploitation material through digital means.

Acts that cause psychological harm or incite physical harm to individuals. Examples of cyber-violence include bullying, stalking, hate speech, as well as acts against the government such as terrorism.


By categorising cyber offences into these four distinct categories, we can gain a better understanding of the different types of cybercrimes and their implications for today’s digital landscape.

How The Internet Facilitates Crime

Is the internet solely responsible for the rise of cybercrime? While the internet is undoubtedly a powerful tool for communication, commerce, and entertainment, it is important to recognise that it merely provides another avenue for criminal behaviours, many of which existed in the offline world. The way we utilise the internet presents opportunities for cybercrimes to occur.

Some common activities on the internet that can be exploited by criminals include:

Online shopping:
The convenience of online shopping opens doors to credit card fraud and the sale of counterfeit goods.

Social media:
While social media platforms foster global connections, they also facilitate cyberbullying, stalking and hate speech.

Internet of Things (IoT):
The proliferation of IoT devices, such as smart watches, introduces vulnerabilities to everyday objects, making them potential targets for hacking and malware attacks.


There are three significant advantages that the internet offers to criminals, which they may not have had otherwise:

Removal of Physical Barriers:
The internet creates a virtual world where physical boundaries disappear, exposing individuals to potential victimization from anywhere in the world. This lack of geographical limitation poses a significant challenge for authorities combating cybercrime.

Larger Victim Pool: 
The ease of internet technology and its widespread accessibility act as a ‘force multiplier’, allowing offenders to quickly reach a vast number of potential victims.

The internet provides a cloak of anonymity for offenders, enabling them to hide their identities and making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to apprehend them.


While it is essential to acknowledge the role of the internet in facilitating cybercrime, it is equally important to understand that responsible use and effective security measures can mitigate these risks. As users of the internet, it is crucial to be aware of potential threats and take appropriate precautions to protect ourselves.

Frauds and Scams: A Growing Concern

The rise of cybercrime has brought about a growing concern regarding various types of frauds and scams. These criminal activities not only lead to substantial monetary losses but also exploit victims emotionally and damage their trust and well-being. Understanding how scams work is crucial in terms of increasing our awareness of them, as well as what we can do to protect ourselves from being exploited.

The following are some common types of frauds and scams:

Investment Fraud:

Investment fraud involves scammers enticing individuals to invest their money in fraudulent schemes or non-existent companies. They often promise high returns or guaranteed profits, luring victims into handing over their funds. Once the money is obtained, the scammers disappear, leaving the victims with significant financial losses. It is essential to exercise caution and conduct thorough research before making any investment decisions.

Romance Scams:

Romance scams target individuals looking for companionship or romantic relationships online. Scammers create fake profiles on dating websites or social media platforms and establish emotional connections with their victims. They gain the victims’ trust and affection, only to exploit them for financial gain. The scammers may request money for various reasons, such as medical emergencies or travel expenses, and once they receive the funds, they vanish. These scams can be financially damaging and have a profound emotional impact on victims.

Phishing and Spoofing:

Phishing is a deceptive technique employed by cybercriminals to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as personal details, passwords, or credit card details. Scammers often send fraudulent emails or messages that appear legitimate, such as posing as a reputable organisation or financial institution. The messages typically urge the recipients to click on a link or provide their personal information, which is then used for identity theft or unauthorised access to accounts. It is crucial to exercise caution when sharing personal information online and verify the authenticity of any requests. Spoofing, on the other hand, involves cybercriminals creating fake websites that closely resemble legitimate ones, for example that of a bank or streaming service. A phishing email or text message is used to direct the victim to the fake site, where they enter in log-in details and other sensitive information, which is then used and/or stolen.

Advanced Fee Frauds:

Advanced fee frauds involve scammers convincing victims to pay upfront fees or provide financial assistance in exchange for a promised benefit or reward. Common examples include lottery scams, where victims are informed of winning a substantial prize but must pay a fee to claim it, or inheritance scams, where victims are told they are entitled to a large inheritance but must cover legal or administrative costs first. Once the victims send the money, the scammers disappear, and no promised benefits materialise.

Internet Auction Frauds:

Internet auction frauds target individuals participating in online auctions, primarily on e-commerce platforms. Scammers may create fake listings for high-demand items at attractive prices or misrepresent the condition or existence of the items being sold. They often request payment upfront and either send counterfeit or inferior products or never deliver anything at all. It is essential to exercise caution when engaging in online auctions, verify the seller’s credibility, and use secure payment methods.

By being aware of these various types of frauds and scams, individuals can better protect themselves from falling victim to these criminal activities. It is crucial to stay vigilant, verify information, and report any suspicious activities to the appropriate authorities.

Why Do These Scams Work?

Despite the widespread awareness of scams and frauds, it remains puzzling why people continue to fall victim to them year after year. The answer lies in the combination of criminals’ technical expertise and their utilisation of social engineering techniques.

Social engineering, as defined by Bullée and Junger (2019), involves non-technical attacks that exploit human interaction to complement technical attacks. In other words, scammers manipulate the human element, such as our emotions, to make their attacks appear harmless and legitimate, ensuring that the victims willingly participate without realising they are being victimised.

The success of scams and frauds ultimately stems from the vulnerabilities inherent in human nature. Several factors contribute to why people can be easily duped:

Lack of caution:

Many scams rely on individuals acting without thinking or exercising caution. This can be as simple as clicking on suspicious links or opening email attachments without considering the potential risks. Scammers often exploit our inclination to trust and our desire for convenience, catching us off guard when we least expect it.


Scammers prey on our natural desire for financial gain, offering tempting opportunities to get rich quick or earn significant returns with minimal effort. The promise of easy money can cloud our judgement and override our scepticism, making us more susceptible to fraudulent schemes that exploit our greed.

Susceptibility to manipulation:

Human beings are inherently social creatures, and scammers capitalise on this by exploiting our emotions and psychological vulnerabilities. For example, romance scams target individuals seeking love or companionship, leveraging their emotional needs to establish trust and manipulate their victims into providing financial assistance.

Lack of awareness and knowledge:

Despite the increasing awareness of scams and frauds, many people still lack sufficient knowledge about the evolving tactics used by criminals. Scammers continuously adapt and employ new techniques, making it challenging for individuals to stay informed and recognise potential threats. This lack of awareness leaves individuals more susceptible to falling victim to these fraudulent schemes.

To combat the success of scams and frauds, it is crucial for individuals to develop a sceptical mindset, exercise caution in online interactions, and stay informed about the latest scamming techniques. Education and awareness play a vital role in protecting oneself and others from the devastating consequences of these fraudulent activities. Additionally, fostering a culture of reporting and sharing information about scams can help raise awareness and enable authorities to take appropriate action against scammers.

By understanding the psychological and social factors that make people vulnerable to scams, individuals can take proactive steps to protect themselves and contribute to the collective effort of minimising the impact of frauds and scams on our society.


Yar, M., & Steinmetz, K. F. (2019). Cybercrime and society. Sage Publications Ltd.

Wall, D. S. (2001). Crime and the Internet. New York: Routledge.

Bullée, J. W., & Junger, M. (2019). Social engineering. In M. N. K. Saunders, R. H. Sprague Jr., & L. Johnstone (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology (4th ed., pp. 5576-5585). IGI Global.

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