Free Digital Crime Theories Research Paper Example

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Crime, Social Issues, Criminal Justice, Theory, White, Banking, Choice, Credit Card

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/11/06

Digital or cybercrime refers to a wide range of crimes including identity theft, credit card fraud and vandalism that involve a computer or a computer network. Accordingly, digital criminals are as diverse as the crime they perpetrate. To be sure, despite the common belief that the digital criminal is the socially inept, loner teenager operating from his computer home computer, it is important that society, and law enforcement officials especially, understand that there is no single unified theory that can explain the behavior of a digital criminal. Rather like all criminal activity, the explanation of any particular crime relies on multiple variables. The remainder of this essay will focus on two theories of criminal behavior that can be useful in explaining the motivations of a digital criminal.
The rational choice theory states that people commit crimes because they can. Rational choice theory, in essence, argues that people are sensible actors and will therefore normally weight the positives and negatives of a situation prior to making a decision (Barton & Barton, 2011). Consequently, decisions are based on a rational choice of whether the benefits outweigh the costs. In regards to crime, the rational theory suggests that when making a decision on whether to commit a crime, an individual will consider their personal needs against the possibility of being caught or punished. If the feel that the possibility of arrest or imprisonment is small, they will most likely commit the criminal act. In short, people who commit crimes have determined that there not many risks to success and the potential benefit is worth the effort.
White collar criminal behavior such as corporate corruption, embezzlement and money laundering are commonly associated with rational choice theory. Indeed, oftentimes, these crimes. There are two primary aspects of white collar crime that support a rational choice theory of explanation, namely greed and opportunity. Greed is often found to be one of the fundamental motivations underpinning white collar crime (Gottschalk, 2014). Indeed, white collar criminals are often individuals who have already achieved a certain level of wealth, prestige and power. However, for a variety of personal reason seek to increase their wealth by illegal means. White collar criminals are also likely to understand that their wealth-increasing actions are most likely illegal. Despite their understanding that their actions are unlawful, they nevertheless insist on committing the crime. White collar crimes are also facilitated by the abundance of opportunity in which to commit them. As mentioned, white collar criminals are often corporate or organizational leaders with access to inside information that allows them to act where there is least resistance. For example, in the case of insider trading, the perpetrator uses privileged information that is unavailable to the public to profit personally.
Rational choice theory is useful in explaining a number of digital crimes. For instance, online piracy refers to the unauthorized downloading, copying and distribution of software, music, movies or other content. Online piracy is widely known to be illegal however; it is still one of the most common criminal activities committed in cyberspace. This is due the fact that most people feel their chances of getting caught are small but the benefit of listening to the just released album of your favorite band before for free and before it is officially released are considerable. Online credit card fraud presents another example of a digital crime that is aptly explained by the rational choice theory. Access to a persons’ credit card information is most often accomplished by the simple fact that they have no or a weak password protecting their financial information. Moreover, banks themselves have been known to employ weak cybersecurity practices for the databases. The result is that commonly available software to can be used to “crack” a password within a very short time. Accordingly, a persistent hacker who knows: (1) most people and organizations have weak cybersecurity hygiene, and (2) there a little or no safeguards opposing criminal activity; will reason that the benefits in committing a digital crime greatly outweigh the risks.
The social learning theory argues that people earn to engage in crime through their interactions or associations with others (Barton & Barton, 2011). Under the social learning theory, a person is introduced into crime by a relation that is closely connected to how and what they learn such as a family member or peer who rationalizes the criminal behavior. The behavior is reinforced by approval and rarely disapproved of. In non-digital criminal activity, the social learning theory is commonly used to explain the existence of gang violence. Under this analysis, gang members become conditioned to the violence and brutality of gang life. Its rewards include power, acceptance in the group, attention and money. To be sure, violence is accepted as the way of life rather than an alternative choice. Accordingly, new gang members learn that violence is the key to success whereas non-violence often ends in injury or death.
As applied to digital crime, the social learning theory can describe the actions of a hacking collective such as the infamous Shadowcrew. Like a gang, these hacking collectives are often made up of a group of friends or acquaintances that are brought together by common interests (Erdely, 2010). At its height, the Shadowcrew had nearly 4,000 members who “trafficked and misused over 1.5 million stolen credit card details” (Constantin, 2013). Often these groups begin as a group of teenager computer friends, who initially committed harmless computer pranks Along the way, group members, like traditional gang members, learn deviant behaviors such as taking over a school’s website that are reinforced over time and can evolve into something much more notorious (Paulsen, 2012). To be sure, in regards to some members of the Shadowcrew, the rationalization of the belief that playing pranks such as accessing computers without authorization was alright because no one was harmed, developed into the belief that stealing credit card numbers is not really a crime because credit card holders will be reimbursed by their banks or credit card companies (Paulsen, 2012).


Barton, A.M., & Barton, C.A. (2011). Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Constantin, L. (2013, Jul. 2). Alleged Shadowcrew member extradited to U.S. 9 years after cybercrime forum takedown. Retrieved on February 10, 2015, from
Erdely, S.R. (2010, June 10). Sex, Drugs and the Biggest Cybercrime of All Time. Retrieved February, 10, 2015, from
Gottschalk, P. (2014). Policing White-Collar Crime: Characteristics of White-Collar Criminals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Paulsen, K. (2012). Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

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