Universiteit Leiden

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Anyone can fall victim to cybercrime

Criminology students Simone Kruijt and Noor Hekker conducted research into cybercrime in Leiden and presented their findings to the regional police and an enthusiastic Mayor Lenferink. The conclusions call for a new approach, said Lenferink.

Cybercrime is skyrocketing and affects a growing number of businesses and citizens. The two students did an internship at the Security Team at the Municipality of Leiden this year. Simone Kruijt researched how many Leideners fell victim to cybercrime in 2019. For her research she used the national Security Monitor and examined the data from 2019. Of the 2,632 respondents from Leiden, 515 (19.6%) fell victim to at least one digital crime. Most of these respondents, 8.4% in total, were the victim of a hack on their laptop or smartphone. A further 3.1% were the victims of identity fraud, 7% of purchase and sales fraud and 5.1% of cyberbullying.

Victim profile

Kruijt wanted to see whether the data revealed any patterns. Are certain ethnic groups more likely to be victims of cybercrime? Kruijt: ‘The victims proved to be heterogenous and came from all ethnic groups. So people in all age groups and of all levels of educational can be affected.’ This insight is important to the approach. ‘You can’t draw up a limited victim profile, so the public information has to address the whole population.’

Mayor Lenferink at a previous meeting within the Learning with the City programme.

Risk assessment versus fear

Noor Hekker conducted research into risk perception and fear: how great a risk do Leideners think there is of falling victim to cybercrime and how fearful are they of this? She took a survey of 189 respondents from the Leiden Panel, a large, diverse group of residents who give their opinion on topics relating to the city. The survey showed that Leideners perceive the likelihood of being a victim of cybercrime to be ‘average’; they think it’s neither probable nor improbable. Hekker: ‘The risk perception was lower if people thought they could control whether or not they would be fall victim. But if they have to say how scared are of it, their responses show they are a bit more concerned.’

Presenting to the mayor, police and prosecution service: ‘Now the report is less likely to be filed away and forgotten’

Prevent misery

Hekker also discovered that Leideners perceive the risk of falling victim to cybercrime to be higher if they have already been a victim of cybercrime. She hopes that her research will give the municipality some pointers for developing a cybercrime prevention policy. ‘Criminals are often difficult to catch, but Leideners can prevent a lot of misery by being more careful on the internet. It’s important that people realise they can do something about this themselves.’

Mayor: useful research

The municipality was keen to hear the findings. On 5 May the students presented their research to Mayor Lenferink and representatives of the police and prosecution service. A unique opportunity, say the students. Kruijt: ‘The report is now less likely to be filed away and forgotten.’

In a response Mayor Lenferink said that he would definitely use the students’ research findings: ‘With their research Simone and Noor have shown that cybercrime is even more complex than we had thought. It would have been easier for our strategy if they had found that some groups are more susceptible to it. But anyone can be affected and the fear of this form of crime depends on many different factors. That wasn’t what was expected, and strategies therefore won’t work if they focus on specific target groups. We’ll be all too pleased to use these findings when thinking about our strategy and how we inform the public.’

Police response

The Leiden-Bollenstreek police also takes the research seriously. A spokesperson said that it gives a valuable picture of developments, perceptions and possible insight into how to tackle cybercrime. The presentations made it clear that the reality in the ‘digital domain’ doesn’t always correspond with the picture that the police, municipality and prosecution service have, the spokesperson continued.



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