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Mobile phone addicts are more likely to fall prey to cybercriminals

  phone addiction

Higher smartphone addiction entails a greater likelihood of coinciding with a cybercriminal in space and time (Photo: Priscilla Du Preez /

A study has linked mobile phone addiction levels to higher cybercrime vulnerability

The research suggests that early identification of potential vulnerable cybercrime targets may be possible

Spending more time with your smartphone leads to greater exposure to digital content. This may also mean people are more knowledgeable, but, from the point of view of cybercriminals, more hours of mobile phone use are a plus when choosing their victims. This is the finding of a study carried out by researchers at the University of Oviedo, the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).

The work, which has been carried out by Juan Herrero, Andrea Torres, Antonio Hidalgo, Francisco J. Rodrguez, Alberto Uruea and Josep Vivas from the UOC's Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, is based on lifestyle-routine activity theory, one of the most widely accepted theoretical approaches to studying cybercrime victimization, which it links to smartphone addiction. 

Lifestyle-routine activity theory in turn links two theoretical approaches: rational choice theory and lifestyle exposure theory. "Rational choice theory focuses on the characteristics of the offence rather than on the actual criminals, asserting that criminal actions take place when a motivated offender and an attractive target coincide in time and space," explained the researchers. 

But according to the proponents of lifestyle exposure theory, the risk of falling victim to crime is the result of lifestyles with the potential to expose people to offenders. "Those at higher risk of becoming victims to crime are more likely to have lifestyles that involve spending more time in public (particularly at night), away from their families, and in closer proximity to high-risk groups," they added. 

As in previous research, the study's findings confirm the predictions made by the two traditional theories (lifestyle-routine activity theory and self-control theory) to explain cybercrime victimization. However, they also add a new variable: smartphone addiction.


A new perspective for prevention

But how does all this apply to smartphone use and addiction? The researchers found that higher smartphone addiction entails not only greater exposure to the digital environment—and therefore to cybercriminals—but also a greater likelihood of coinciding with a cybercriminal in space and time and thus of becoming their victim. 

"The findings of the study have led to the identification of smartphone addiction as a significant factor in the prediction of cybercrime victimization. There is a significant dual effect: in addition to its impact on indirect effects, smartphone addiction has a direct influence on cybercrime victimization (direct effect). This direct effect is particularly relevant, as it suggests that users with a greater smartphone addiction are also more likely to fall prey to cybercrime," the research team explained.

The researchers believe that the main contribution made by this work, which has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and is one of five projects to have been awarded a BBVA Foundation Grant for Scientific Research Teams 2019, is its potential for the early detection of cybercrime-vulnerable groups. "Knowing these variables enables us to design more specific detection strategies and focus on certain components that hadn't previously been considered in the identification and prevention of cybercrime," they explained. 


This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.


Related article

Herrero, J.; Torres, A.; Vivas, P.; Hidalgo, A.; Rodrguez, F. J.; Uruea, A. Smartphone Addiction and Cybercrime Victimization in the Context of Lifestyles Routine Activities and Self-Control Theories: The User's Dual Vulnerability Model of Cybercrime Victimization. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 3763.



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health. Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: #UOC25years


Photograph of Josep Vivas Elias

Josep Vivas Elias

Expert in: Psychology of cities; theory of urban space; qualitative methods for researching cities; urban ethnography; urban drift; observation of cities.

Knowledge area: Social psychology.

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