Victimization in Cyberspace: Is It How Long We Spend Online, What We Do Online, or What We Post Online?

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Victimization in Cyberspace:
Is It How Long We Spend
Online, What We Do Online,
or What We Post Online?
Fawn T. Ngo
, Alex R. Piquero
Jennifer LaPrade
, and Bao Duong
Prior research on cybercrime victimization has generally emphasized the linkage between the fre-
quency or actual length of time individuals spend online engaging in certain activities and the risk of
being victimized in cyberspace but has paid much less attention to what persons actually share or post
online that increases the risk of online victimization. To address this gap, we appeal to the integrated
lifestyle–routine activities theory in order to examine the relationships between the length of time
one spends online (online frequency), specific activities or tasks one engages in while online (online
activity), specific types of information one shares online (online posting), and seven specific forms of
cybercrime victimization using a convenience sample of students. Results showed that one online
frequency variable (internet hours), six online activity variables (banking, reading news, shopping,
planning travel, socializing, and communicating with stranger), and three online posting variables
(phone number, home address, and other info) were significantly related to five of the seven forms of
cybercrime victimization (computer virus, harassment by nonstranger unwanted porn, sex solicita-
tion, and phishing). Implications for our findings and directions for future research are discussed.
cybercrime, victimization, integrated lifestyle/routine activities
Department of Criminology, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO, USA
School of Economic Political and Policy Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA
Department of Computer Information Systems, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Fawn T. Ngo, Department of Criminology, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, University of South Florida,
Tampa, FL 33620, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(4) 430-451
ª2020 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820934175
It is indisputable that we are living in a technologically interconnected world. We rely on computers
for many aspects of our lives, from banking to education to purchasing household goods and so on.
The World Wide Web has enabled us to connect with other individuals around the globe, share and
disseminate information, collaborate on projects, and stay in touch. Unfortunately, the very tech-
nologies and infrastructure that empower people to connect, build, and innovate are also the same
tools and mechanisms that criminals employ to victimize ordinary citizens. According to the Federal
Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3, 2019), from 2015 to 2019, almost 2
million individuals have filed a consumer internet crime complaint with the agency. Undoubtedly,
many more were victimized but may not have reported it and/or may not yet have realized that they
had been victimized. As criminals become more sophisticated and invent new ways to commit crime
in cyberspace, the number of cybercrime victims is expected to increase in the coming years
(National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018).
To thwart the commission of cybercrime, knowledge about factors that may heighten the risks of
victimization is crucial. Notably, there is a dearth of research examining the relationships between
what computer users post or share online (e.g., personal information, pictures, videos) and their
likelihood of becoming a victim in cyberspace. It is believed that information one posts or shares
online could help cybercriminals plot their crimes such as verifying the victim’s identity, locating
the victim’s home address, confirming that the victim is on vacation and hence, their house is
unoccupied, and so on (Windle, 2017). There is also evidence that individuals who disclose personal
information while online face greater risks of falling victim to cybercrime because scammers appear
to select targets according to the information disclosed in the virtual world (Mersh & Dodel, 2018;
Van Wilsem, 2013a). Hence, determining the linkage between the types of information individuals
post or share online and their risks of becoming victims of cybercrime is pertinent and warranted.
To address this gap in the current literature, we explore the associations between online frequency
(the length of time one spends online), online activity (the activities or tasks one engages in while
online), online posting (the information that one posts or shares online), and seven specific forms of
cybercrime: (1) getting a computer virus, (2) exposing to unwanted porn, (3) being solicited for sex,
(4) receiving phishing emails, (5) being harassed by a stranger, (6) being harassed by a nonstranger,
and (7) experiencing defamation. Our study further extends prior research on cybercrime victimiza-
tion by employing a more expansive list of online frequency, online activity, and online posting
variables, all of which have been drawn from integrated lifestyles–routine activities theory (LRAT).
The remainder of our article is organized as follows. First, we present the integrated lifestyle–routine
activities theoretical framework and then we review prior literature on the linkage between online
frequency, online activity, online posting, and cybercrime victimization. Next, we describe our data
and methods, and finally, we report and discuss our findings.
Theoretical Framework
In recent decades, a large proportion of the work on cybercrime victimization has drawn on the
lifestyle–routine activities perspective (LRAT). Lifestyle theory, as originally posited by Hindelang
et al. (1978), states that certain personal characteristics (such as age, sex, or marital status) are
related to certain routine behavioral patterns or lifestyles. Some lifestyles will place people in higher
risk situations more often (such as frequent bars at night), increasing their chance of victimization.
Relatedly, routine activities theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979) contends that crime victimization
happens when three things converge in time and space: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and
absence of capable guardian; and some people increase their risk of victimization because their
routine activities place them in these situations more often (such as walking home from work at night
5 days a week). Taken together, LRAT can provide a more comprehensive theoretical framework
when examining criminal victimization. This integrated lifestyle–routine activities approach posits
Ngo et al. 431

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