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Romance Scam Research Center

2023: AU: Why do fraud victims get blamed? Lerner’s Belief in a Just World and its application to victims of online fraud

Nataraj-Hansen, Shalini; Richards, Kelly.  Journal of Financial Crime; London Vol. 30, Iss. 3, (2023): 828-839. DOI:10.1108/JFC-02-2022-0037



Victims of online fraud face a high level of blame from their families, friends, professionals, the broader community and often from themselves. Victims are commonly perceived as stupid, gullible and undeserving of justice. The reasons for this are under-researched, and there are currently no satisfactory explanations of why victim-blaming occurs so frequently in cases of online fraud. This paper aims to propose a potential theoretical explanation for the high level of blame experienced by online fraud victims.


Lerner’s Belief in a Just World (BJW) theory is posited as a helpful theoretical explanation for the high level of blame directed towards victims of online fraud.


This paper argues that Lerner’s BJW theory is a helpful framework for understanding the blame faced by victims of online fraud because it posits that behavioural responsibility (a trait commonly ascribed to online fraud victims) is central to perceived blameworthiness; and that compensation for a crime determines the level of blame directed towards victims. As victims of online fraud are exceptionally unlikely to receive any type of compensation (whether monetary or otherwise), BJW may help explain the blame directed towards victims.


Prior scholarship predominantly understands the blame faced by online fraud victims through the lens of Nils Christie’s (1986) “ideal victim” thesis. This paper presents an advance over this existing understanding by illustrating how BJW provides a more detailed explanation for victim blame in online fraud."

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