The Role of Volunteers in Policing Fraud and Cybercrime: Friends or Foes?
Economic Crime Seminar Series
There has been a huge rise in fraud and cybercrime over the last two decades, accelerated further by the pandemic. Law enforcement in the UK and many other countries is struggling to cope with this epidemic. Throughout history, vigilantes and voluntary policing initiatives have sought to dispense their own forms of justice in the absence of formal policing institutions or when there is a public perception that insufficient actions have been taken by the police to reduce the volume of offending for certain crimes (Button, 2019). These initiatives may be radically different in terms of their objectives, how they dispense justice, their relationship with formal policing bodies, and whether or not their activities are broadly supported by the public. In the terrestrial environment so-called ‘mob-justice’, for example, is a common practice in some of the poorest communities in South Africa whereby suspected offenders are typically attacked and sometimes even beaten to death by vigilantes who have taken the matter of policing into their own hands (iol.co.za, 2021). By contrast, the ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ is the largest voluntary initiative covering England and Wales which is often supported by local police forces and is a widely accepted initiative in many countries, focusing broadly on reducing the level of antisocial behaviour.
Voluntary initiatives seeking to tackle the sheer scale of crimes committed on the internet, by comparison, have received comparatively less attention. This seminar seeks to discuss an underexplored activity called ‘scambaiting’, a popular activity whereby individuals attempt to enter into discussions with online fraudsters in an effort to waste the time of offenders. These activities, whilst popular, have attracted numerous criticisms by academics (Button and Whittaker, 2021; Cross and Mayers, 2020; Nakamura, 2014; Byrne, 2013) for the humiliation which is sometimes employed in these efforts, however, it is acknowledged that this represents but a limited view. This seminar seeks to provide a more holistic discussion to determine whether scambaiting can be beneficial to society. Additionally, this seminar will seek to examine whether formal policing bodies could better harness the efforts of volunteers in their efforts to combat the sheer scale of online fraud.
Button, M. and Whittaker, J., (2021). Exploring the voluntary response to cyber-fraud: From vigilantism to responsibilisation. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 66, p.100482.
Button, M., (2019) Private Policing. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, pp.89-96.
Byrne, D., 2013. 419 Digilantes and the Frontier of Radical Justice Online. Radical History Review, 2013(117), pp.70-82.
Cross, C. and Mayers, D., 2020. Scambaiter Narratives of Victims and Offenders and Their Influence on the Policing of Fraud. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice,.
Iol.co.za. 2021. ’No one deserves such a brutal and horrible death’: Zandspruit’s mob justice bloodbath. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 July 2021].
McGready, S. (2018) Breaking the lock on CSCV. https://medium.com/@ScottMcGready/breaking-the-lock-on-cscv-11328733295c
Nakamura, L., 2014. ‘I WILL DO EVERYthing That Am Asked’: Scambaiting, Digital Show-Space, and the Racial Violence of Social Media. Journal of Visual Culture, 13(3), pp.257-274.
Whittaker, J. and Button, M. (2021) ‘Scambaiting’: why the vigilantes fighting online fraudsters may do more harm than good. The Conversation.
Event Key Speakers/Event Programme
Chair, Professor Mark Button
Context of voluntary involvement in policing online fraud and cybercrime
Jack Whittaker, PhD candidate, University of Surrey
Breaking the lock on CSCV
Is a tech consultant focusing on scams, hacks, cyber security, and fraud. He has been used in several TV shows as a guest expert, and regularly on the radio, given talks to major financial institutions, and guest-written articles on the subject of hacks, cons, scams, and more. He is also a Scambassador for National Trading Standards, work with the TakeFive campaign, most recently in Scam Academy, and gives regular talks to community groups, and schools, on how to stay safe online.
All are welcome to join us for the webinar. To attend the event please register for the event below. This is an online event . The webinar link will be sent to participants prior to the event.
If you have any questions please contact Mark Button (Mark.Button@port.ac.uk)
The Economic Crime Seminar Series is the joint effort of:
- School of Criminology and Criminal Justice
- Portsmouth Law School
- Portsmouth Business School – the Department of Economics and Finance
- Portsmouth Business School – the Department of Accounting and Financial Management