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The Effect of COVID-19 Restrictions on Routine Activities and Online Crime

Johnson, Shane D; Nikolovska, Manja; (2022) The Effect of COVID-19 Restrictions on Routine Activities and Online Crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 10.1007/s10940-022-09564-7. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Routine activity theory suggests that levels of crime are affected by peoples’ activity patterns. Here, we examine if, through their impact on people’s on- and off-line activities, COVID-19 restriction affected fraud committed on- and off-line during the pandemic. Our expectation was that levels of online offending would closely follow changes to mobility and online activity—with crime increasing as restrictions were imposed (and online activity increased) and declining as they were relaxed. For doorstep fraud, which has a different opportunity structure, our expectation was that the reverse would be true. METHOD: COVID-19 restrictions systematically disrupted people’s activity patterns, creating quasi-experimental conditions well-suited to testing the effects of “interventions” on crime. We exploit those conditions using ARIMA time series models and UK data for online shopping fraud, hacking, doorstep fraud, online sales, and mobility to test hypotheses. Doorstep fraud is modelled as a non-equivalent dependent variable, allowing us to test whether findings were selective and in line with theoretical expectations. RESULTS: After controlling for other factors, levels of crime committed online were positively associated with monthly variation in online activities and negatively associated with monthly variation in mobility. In contrast, and as expected, monthly variation in doorstep fraud was positively associated with changes in mobility. CONCLUSIONS: We find evidence consistent with routine activity theory, suggesting that disruptions to people’s daily activity patterns affect levels of crime committed both on- and off-line. The theoretical implications of the findings, and the need to develop a better evidence base about what works to reduce online crime, are discussed.

Type: Article
Title: The Effect of COVID-19 Restrictions on Routine Activities and Online Crime
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1007/s10940-022-09564-7
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-022-09564-7
Language: English
Additional information: © 2022 Springer Nature Switzerland AG. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Online fraud, Online hacking, Doorstep fraud, Routine activity theory, COVID-19
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Security and Crime Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10161843
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