The Importance Of Taxonomies In Understanding Scams Fraud & Cybercrimes


•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Article Abstract

The article delineates the paramount significance of taxonomies in criminology, cybersecurity, fraud prevention, and law enforcement, emphasizing their role in creating unified frameworks for understanding criminal behavior.

It elucidates how structured classifications facilitate comprehensive analysis, aiding researchers, law enforcement, policymakers, and businesses in discerning crime patterns and formulating effective prevention strategies. Emphasizing the necessity of standardized taxonomies, it delineates the perils of employing non-standard terms, delineating their adverse effects on victim support, investigation, and collaboration among law enforcement agencies. The discourse concludes by advocating for a unified taxonomy, fostering collaboration among diverse entities to combat fraud and scams effectively.

The Importance Of Taxonomies

Taxonomies allow for agreement on the terms that define the work of many. In every aspect of criminology, cybersecurity, fraud prevention, and law enforcement having a unified agreed-upon taxonomy is vital!

The Role Of Taxonomies

Taxonomies play a crucial role in criminology by providing a systematic framework for categorizing and classifying criminal behaviors and activities.

These structured classifications enable researchers, law enforcement agencies, the criminal justice system, business & industry, and policymakers to analyze and understand crime patterns, trends, and characteristics more effectively.

Taxonomies help identify and differentiate various types of crimes, criminal profiles, and modus operandi, aiding in the development of targeted prevention strategies, investigative techniques, and intervention programs. By organizing criminal behaviors into distinct categories, taxonomies facilitate the exchange of information, enhance communication between professionals, and contribute to the overall advancement of criminological knowledge and the formulation of evidence-based policies.


Taxonomies serve as a fundamental tool for organizing and classifying criminal behaviors, which is essential for several reasons.

  • Firstly, taxonomies provide a standardized language and framework for describing and categorizing criminal activities. This allows researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to communicate effectively and share information consistently. By using common terminology and classifications, it becomes easier to compare and analyze crime data across different jurisdictions and time periods.
  • Secondly, taxonomies help in identifying patterns and trends in criminal behavior. By categorizing crimes into distinct types and subtypes, researchers can identify similarities, differences, and recurring patterns within and across different criminal activities. This knowledge is crucial for understanding the root causes of crimes, predicting future criminal behavior, and developing effective prevention and intervention strategies.
  • Furthermore, taxonomies aid in the development of criminal profiles. By classifying and categorizing offenders based on their behaviors, characteristics, and motivations, criminologists can create profiles that assist law enforcement agencies in identifying and apprehending criminals. This helps investigators narrow down their search, allocate resources efficiently, and develop targeted strategies for combating specific types of crime.
  • Taxonomies also contribute to the formulation of evidence-based policies and interventions. By studying the characteristics and dynamics of different types of crimes, policymakers can make informed decisions on resource allocation, crime prevention initiatives, and the implementation of effective measures to address specific criminal activities. Taxonomies enable policymakers to understand the underlying factors that contribute to criminal behavior, which helps in designing interventions that target those factors directly.

Taxonomies are vital for organizing, analyzing, and understanding criminal behavior. They provide a common language, facilitate the identification of patterns and trends, assist in the development of criminal profiles, and contribute to evidence-based policy formulation and intervention strategies. By utilizing taxonomies, criminologists and allied professionals can gain deeper insights into the complex nature of crime and work towards creating safer communities.

Random or Non-Standardized Taxonomies

The use of random or non-standardized taxonomies in criminology and allied occupations can introduce several dangers and challenges:

  1. Lack of Consistency: Random taxonomies lack a standardized and consistent framework for classifying criminal behavior. This inconsistency can lead to confusion and miscommunication among researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and even the victims. It becomes difficult to compare and analyze data across different studies, jurisdictions, or time periods, hindering the development of a comprehensive understanding of crime trends and patterns.
  2. Impaired Data Analysis: Random taxonomies make it challenging to aggregate and analyze data effectively. Without a consistent classification system, it becomes difficult to identify commonalities, trends, and relationships within crime data. This hampers the ability to draw meaningful conclusions, make evidence-based decisions, and develop targeted strategies for crime prevention and intervention.
  3. Limited Knowledge Accumulation: Random taxonomies hinder the accumulation of knowledge in criminology and allied fields. A consistent taxonomy allows for the accumulation of research findings, theories, and best practices over time. It enables the field to build upon existing knowledge, refine concepts, and develop a deeper understanding of criminal behavior. Random taxonomies fragment knowledge and impede the progress of criminological research.
  4. Challenges in Collaboration and Comparability: In criminology, collaboration, and comparability are essential for advancing knowledge and practice. Random taxonomies impede collaboration among researchers & practitioners, as there is no shared language or framework for understanding and discussing crime. It becomes difficult to compare findings, replicate studies, or conduct meta-analyses, limiting the ability to draw robust conclusions or make broader generalizations.
  5. Ineffective Policy Development: Random taxonomies hinder the development of effective policies and legislation. Without a consistent framework to guide policy discussions, it becomes challenging to identify and prioritize key issues, understand the root causes of crime, and design evidence-based strategies. Policy development relies on a clear understanding of the nature and dynamics of criminal behavior, which is impeded by random taxonomies.
  6. Reduced Public Trust: Random taxonomies can erode public trust in the field of criminology, law enforcement, victim support, fraud prevention, and related activities. Inconsistencies and arbitrary classifications can lead to skepticism and confusion among the general public. When the language and classifications used in criminology are perceived as arbitrary or lacking rigor, it undermines the credibility of the field and reduces public confidence in the effectiveness of crime prevention and justice systems.
  7. Minimization of Crime: Often terminology tends to minimize the impact of crimes. The news media is especially prone to this in coining new catchy phrases that make good sound bites but obscure the true nature and severity of the crimes in question.

Random taxonomies associated with criminal descriptions introduce dangers such as lack of consistency, impaired data analysis, limited knowledge accumulation, challenges in collaboration and comparability, ineffective policy development, and reduced public trust. To ensure progress and meaningful advancements in the field, it is crucial to establish standardized and robust taxonomies that allow for the consistent classification, analysis, and understanding of criminal behavior.

The Impact on Law Enforcement

Fraud taxonomies have a significant impact on law enforcement and the criminal justice system in several ways:

  1. Improved Investigations: Fraud taxonomies provide a structured framework for classifying different types of fraudulent activities, such as identity theft, financial fraud, or online scams. Law enforcement agencies can utilize these taxonomies to categorize and analyze fraud cases more effectively, leading to more targeted investigations. By understanding the specific characteristics and patterns associated with different types of fraud, investigators can gather relevant evidence, identify suspects, and build stronger cases.
  2. Resource Allocation: Fraud taxonomies assist in resource allocation by helping law enforcement agencies identify high-risk areas and prioritize their efforts. By analyzing the prevalence and severity of different types of fraud, agencies can allocate resources, personnel, and technology to combat the most significant threats. Taxonomies enable agencies to make informed decisions about where to focus their resources to maximize their impact in preventing and detecting fraud.
  3. Intelligence Sharing: Fraud taxonomies facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence between law enforcement agencies, both domestically and internationally. By utilizing a standardized classification system, agencies can communicate effectively, exchange data, and collaborate on cross-jurisdictional cases. This sharing of information helps to identify patterns, track criminal networks, and enhance the overall effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions.
  4. Prevention Strategies: Taxonomies play a crucial role in developing proactive prevention strategies. By analyzing fraud patterns and understanding the underlying factors contributing to different types of fraud, law enforcement agencies and policymakers can design targeted prevention campaigns and educate the public about specific risks. Fraud taxonomies enable the identification of common vulnerabilities and provide guidance on implementing preventive measures, such as public awareness campaigns, improved security protocols, and regulatory changes.
  5. Policy Development: Fraud taxonomies inform the development of policies and legislation related to fraud. By categorizing and classifying fraudulent activities, policymakers can gain a better understanding of the nature and scope of fraud in society. This understanding allows them to create effective laws, regulations, and enforcement strategies that address the specific challenges posed by different types of fraud. Taxonomies provide policymakers with the necessary insights to design comprehensive approaches that deter fraud, protect victims, and hold perpetrators accountable.

These taxonomies significantly impact law enforcement and the criminal justice system by enhancing investigations, guiding resource allocation, facilitating information sharing, enabling prevention strategies, and informing policy development. By providing a systematic framework for understanding and combating fraud, taxonomies help create a more effective and coordinated response to the evolving challenges of fraud-related crimes. Conversely, random or defuse taxonomies make the job of law enforcement that much harder.

Impact on Crime Victims

Scam or fraud taxonomies have a direct impact on scam or fraud victims in several ways:

  1. Victim Support and Validation: Scam taxonomies provide a standardized framework for classifying different types of scams and frauds. When victims encounter a scam, they can refer to these taxonomies to identify the specific type of fraud they have experienced. This classification helps victims understand that they are not alone and that others have fallen victim to similar schemes. It validates their experiences, reducing the feelings of isolation and self-blame often associated with being scammed.
  2. Awareness and Education: Scam taxonomies contribute to public awareness and education campaigns. By categorizing and defining various types of scams, taxonomies help raise awareness among potential victims about the tactics and techniques used by fraudsters. Victims can educate themselves on common scam patterns, warning signs, and red flags associated with specific types of fraud. This knowledge empowers individuals to be more vigilant, recognize potential scams, and take proactive steps to protect themselves and their finances.
  3. Recovery and Healing: Scam taxonomies can assist in the recovery and healing process for victims. Understanding the specific type of scam they fell victim to helps individuals make sense of their experience and process their emotions. It allows them to seek support from appropriate resources, such as counseling services or support groups tailored to victims of that particular type of fraud. Connecting with others who have experienced similar scams can provide comfort, empathy, and a sense of validation, which are crucial elements in the healing journey.
  4. Reporting and Legal Actions: Scam taxonomies enable accurate reporting of fraud incidents and aid in legal actions against scammers. Victims can provide detailed information to law enforcement agencies, using the standardized classifications provided by taxonomies. This consistency in reporting assists in identifying trends, patterns, and the scope of different types of scams. It helps law enforcement agencies build stronger cases against scammers and potentially recover funds or assets for victims through legal proceedings.
  5. Prevention and Awareness Resources: Scam taxonomies contribute to the development of prevention resources and support materials for victims. By categorizing scams, organizations and agencies can create targeted educational materials, online resources, and guides to help individuals recognize and avoid specific types of scams. Victims can access these resources to learn about recovery options, steps to take after being scammed, and available support services. This aids in empowering victims, helping them regain their confidence, and minimizing the risk of falling victim to scams again.

The impact on scam or fraud victims by providing support, validation, and a framework for understanding their experiences is strongly influenced by taxonomies. They contribute to awareness and education, aid in recovery and healing, facilitate accurate reporting, assist in legal actions, and help develop prevention and support resources. By utilizing scam taxonomies, victims can find the necessary information, resources, and guidance to navigate the aftermath of being scammed and protect themselves in the future.

Self-Inveted Terms & Taxonomies

Those ignorant of criminology and the reality of fraud crimes have a strong tendency to invent their own terms further confusing everything in the process! Terms like “catfishing,” “pig butchering,” and many more either have to be integrated into an over all taxonomy schema, or eliminated.

The Danger of Self-Invented Terms

The use of incorrect or self-invented terms when discussing scams and fraud can have negative impacts on both victims and the police. Here are some of the consequences:

  1. Miscommunication and Confusion: When incorrect or self-invented terms are used, it can lead to miscommunication and confusion between victims and the police. Victims may struggle to effectively describe their experiences, making it difficult for law enforcement to understand and investigate the crime accurately. This can hinder the reporting and investigation process, potentially delaying justice for the victims. We see examples of them in police response to scams vs. fraud – they have a fraud department, but often tell victims there is nothing they can do with scams.
  2. Inadequate Support and Resources: Incorrect terms may lead to a lack of appropriate support and resources for victims. If victims use non-standard or self-invented terms, it becomes challenging for support organizations and agencies to identify and provide specific assistance tailored to their needs. This can result in victims not receiving the appropriate guidance, counseling, or recovery resources required to cope with the emotional, financial, and legal aftermath of the scam. This also tends to direct victims away from professional services and towards amateur, ineffective, or hostile groups.
  3. Underreporting and Data Inconsistencies: Inconsistent or incorrect terms can contribute to underreporting of scams and frauds. Victims may be hesitant to report their experiences if they cannot find a recognized term that accurately describes their situation. This leads to a distorted understanding of the prevalence and impact of scams, making it more challenging for law enforcement and policymakers to allocate resources and develop effective prevention strategies.
  4. Challenges in Investigation and Prosecution: When incorrect or self-invented terms are used, it can create challenges for law enforcement agencies during the investigation and prosecution phases. Investigators may struggle to connect cases or identify patterns if victims use non-standard terminology. This can impede the ability to build strong cases, track criminal networks, and bring scammers to justice.
  5. Lack of Coordination and Collaboration: Standardized terminology facilitates coordination and collaboration between different law enforcement agencies, both domestically and internationally. If incorrect or self-invented terms are used, it becomes difficult to establish a common understanding and share information effectively. This can hinder the exchange of intelligence, hinder joint investigations, and limit the overall effectiveness of combating scams and fraud on a broader scale. We see this constantly in the invention of new terms for crimes, which are actually a technique or tactic and not a different types of crime.

The use of incorrect or self-invented terms when discussing scams and fraud can result in miscommunication, inadequate support for victims, underreporting, challenges in investigation and prosecution, and a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies. It is crucial to utilize standardized and recognized terminology to ensure clear communication, facilitate effective support for victims, and enhance the overall response to scams and fraud.

Organizational Chaos

We at SCARS have seen a broad range of taxonomy conflicts between organizations that have carved out their piece of the overall discussion. Organizations such as The Noble, and many others all have their pet taxonomies that reflect their priorities and orientation. SCARS also has its own taxonomy.

We believe that as both an industry of support providers, fraud prevention professionals, industry, and government, we need to come together to develop a single standardized taxonomy that meets the needs of all constituencies, or at least a limited number of them oriented toward specific audiences. But he question is how do we get there?

In the past standards bodies have emerged from the chaos to help establish such standards. We propose that now is the time to explore this in the form of an organization that can include all appropriate constituencies from government, to NGOs, to Industry. I myself have been a participant in creating such bodies in the past for other schemes such as HIPAA.

Here is the current SCARS Taxonomy for Financial Fraud & Scams – DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.26572.59523

I hope that this will get the conversation started on the topic and broaden the recognition of the problem and possible directions for a solution.

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.







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