The Triangular Theory Model of Cybercrime

Guest Editorial By Saron Messembe Obia, IACSP South East Asia Region


The internet is a global tool for the transfer of information by individuals, organizations, and governments.

The globalization (with focus on the digital economy) has changed the world, with e-commerce, e-banking and other services in the government in relation to human security.

Durkheim E. observed that crime, violence and deviant behavior are linked to community welfare and development.

Violence and crime, therefore, affect every dimension of man’s social existence from a socio-political and historical perspective and are not new phenomena in the field of development theory.

Robert Merton argues that ‘innovation’ is a response to the strain generated by the cultural emphasis on the acquisition of wealth and the lack of opportunities to achieve it; the quest to get rich and the lack of the means to get rich.

This causes people (particularly youths) in Africa like in other parts of the world, to be innovators and thereby engage in illegal activities that are considered deviant, such as cybercrimes, cyberbullying, identity theft and jihadism.

Merton’s observation about some young innovators adhere to societal goals but reject the socially acceptable means of achieving them such as monetary success gained through crime.

He equally claims that innovators are those who socialize with similar world views (the internet world or Android generation) but who have been denied the opportunities they need to be able to legitimately achieve society’s goals.

As such, they indulge in cybercrime (419ners, Ngues man, Machine man, Scammer and Sakawa just to name a few), identity theft (Face-a-Face) and identity fraud.

U.S Cyber Security Approach

The changing patterns of crime and technological evolution in America has led to cybercrimes as security threats, such as those committed by individuals like Edward Snowden a former National Security Agency consultant, Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks and groups like ‘Anonymous’ .

The U.S government has adopted measures to deal with internet challenges through legislation and conferences in order to create awareness and manage these criminal activities in the U.S (Saron, 2016).

These actions have been extended through international and regional collaboration with countries that are willing to participate and share information with the US.

The United States Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other state agencies have departments that focus on cybercrimes.

These detachments, along with many private establishments collaborate to protect the public and the critical infrastructure of the United States by working to prevent, detect, and stop cybercrimes through investigative reports and complaints from victims.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) focuses on protecting not only the government but also individuals from cyber threats (Hacking, Hijacking and DDOS).

(More than 143 million Americans are victims of an Equifax cyber breach; Fox News goes in-depth for ‘Special Report’ courtesy of Fox News and YouTube. Posted on Sep 8, 2017)

The DHS Cyber Security Division is Structured in Three Parts:

  • The National Cyberspace Response System

  • Federal Network Security, and

  • Cyber-risk Management Programs.

These separate divisions better enable the DHS to fulfill its goal of protecting cyberspace.

The DHS organize National Cyber Security Awareness Month, which is designed to educate people about the risks of using the internet (US DHS 2011).

They also have a campaign called ‘Stop. Think. Connect.’

The campaign advises individuals to stop before using the internet and think about the risks present on the internet.

(Here’s 3 things to remember in order to better protect your personal information and manage your privacy. Courtesy of StaySafeOnline .org and YouTube)

The DHS believes that the more knowledgeable someone is about cybercrime, the more likely they will be able to protect themselves.

The FBI Focuses on Three Kinds of Cybercrime.

First, is computer intrusions.

Computer intrusions include viruses, spyware, hacking, and other cybercrimes in which the computer is the target (FBI, 2011).

The FBI concentrates on computer intrusions because of the huge financial and security threat posed by these intrusions.

Cybercrimes is when a computer is the target of a crime (hacking, phishing, spamming) or is used as a tool to commit an offense, particularly when the threat posed is to national security by rendering critical infrastructure compromised.

The financial cost of recovering systems that have been victimized by computer intrusions was evaluated in billions (The FBI, 2011).

The FBI combats computer intrusions through special task forces and collaboration with other government and private agencies (FBI 2011).

(Panagiotis “Pete” Balias, a special agent with the FBI’s Cyber Task Force, discusses credit and debit card scams. Courtesy of the USA Network and YouTube. Posted on Jun 8, 2017)

Another focus of the FBI Cybercrime detachment is targeting online child pornography.

The FBI runs the Innocent Images National Initiative which is a platform designed to combat the proliferation of child pornography/child sexual exploitation (CP/CSE) facilitated by an online computer (FBI 2011).

The FBI recognizes the increasing threats of online child pornography that has caused the expansion of computer and internet practice.

The FBI is fighting child pornography through the undercover investigation of websites, chat rooms, peer-to-peer networks, and other online locations likely to harbor pedophiles.

FBI agents assume fake identities and enter these online locations in a hope to communicate with suspects and gather evidence of illegal activity as well as the coordinate online raid (FBI 2011).

The FBI’s third focus is on intellectual property theft.

Intellectual property theft is ‘the illegal possession of copyrighted or patented material, trade secrets, or trademark usually by electronic copying (Rantala, 2008).

Illegal copyright infringement and theft can cause copyright proprietors to lose billions of dollars in lost revenue (The FBI, 2011).

Computers have made it easier to breach copyright laws and easier to illegally gain access to trade secrets.

The FBI (2011) focused on the theft of trade secrets and infringements on products that can impact consumer’s health and safety such as counterfeit aircraft, and electronic gadgets per the Federal government’s jurisdiction to investigate.

The Journey to the United State of America

Penetrating the U.S. Without the DV Lottery

The quest of the U.S nationality or green card has taken a different shift with cybercriminals.

Usually, the focus on DV lottery which everyone could make his/her way to the U.S.

Today criminals use refugee status or travel to European, Asian or Arab countries, work for a year or more, grab an invitation from a friend or online mate, get married for U.S nationality.

Others use neighboring countries to penetrate the U.S, as immigrants or refugees from countries plague by draught or internal wranglings.

The narrative changes immediately permanent residence is granted to them.

Either the act as pick-up or engage in illicit activities (Face-a-Face), grab the money and live the country never to return.

For those in refugee camps, they usually conceive ideas (on how to seek asylum and also claim to be orphans) for the court session, prepare how to cry to entice the judge to have empathy.

Moreover, its evidence that refugee camps and status helps terrorists or slipper cell members with extremist ideology to penetrate the West.

An example is Umar Farouk A. of the 2009 failed attack on the U.S territory.

(On Christmas Day 2009, as Northwest Airlines Flight 253 began its descent towards Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a 23-year-old man left the airplane toilet, returned to his seat and pulled a blanket across his lap. He then attempted to detonate a device containing military-grade explosive PETN, a deadly bomb designed to take the plane out of the sky. With powerful eyewitness testimony and in-depth expert analysis, this timely documentary examines how alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slipped under the US intelligence radar and evaded three sets of airport security. Courtesy of Air Documentaries and YouTube. Posted on Feb 11, 2015)

The Extortion of Aging Population in African: the New Game of Cybercriminals

Cybercriminals have discovered a new strategy to swindle parents, whose kids are abroad.

The call and demand for payment for good that has been sent to them through the airport or sea port.

They request for payment to be done through local financial institutions or mobile money.

Another pattern is the request for financial assistance from parents of whose kids are abroad (they are usually called bushfallers), for hospital bills for an accident which their kid was involved and in critical condition.

Parents only discover this some months or when their kid contact them (scammer warn the parent not to call their kid’s phone, because he/she can’t talk).

Scenario: The Case Study of Madam A (Cameroonian)

In December 2016, madam A was contacted by a certain man, requesting funds for the medical bills of her son in U.K said to be involved in a fatal accident.

Being afraid to lose her son, she wired the sum of FCFA 500000 to the man (Mr. X).

He told her, she should not discuss the issue with the son upon recovery from the fatal accident.

In February 2017, she was contacted again by the same guy, this time requesting for money to process her documents to visit her son in U.K.

Which she had to borrow from a native association which she belongs to, but friends inquired as to why such a a high amount (FCFA 2000000).

When her friend got the reason, they alerted her son.

Without any doubt, his mother was dealing with a scam, which number and name are not registered on any official website or identified 

The Triangular Theory Model of Cybercrime

The triangular theory is one of the recent and developing theories of cyber criminality by Saron (2015) which describe the increasing nature of cybercrime and identity theft on the African continent is due to the collaboration of criminals with the third party (Pick-up) within and outside of the Country.

The theory exposes how financial transactions are pursued during and after victimization.

The theory relates cybercrime and identity theft to staff dishonesty, which is mostly exploited by cybercriminals to cover their identity.

Criminals used fake identity cards in collaboration with dishonest staff members in banks to modify, delete or fabricate information.

The modus operandi as concerns cybercrime and identity theft goes as follows:

  • First the vulnerable (Mugu, Maga or Jk), who transfers funds to the pick-up in this case a (cashier, manager or any individual co-operating with the cybercriminal found in a different state or even the same resident state of the criminal), with the notion that the pick-up is the manager of existing company or organization as explained in the deal or agreement (bill) with his said client or agency.
  • The pick-up then channels the money to the scammer described as (dak man, machine man or Ngues man) who intend receives the money in any of his resident areas, as a regular customer.
  • This triangular deal protects the criminal from any identification or track from a victim. This is because the criminal’s real identity (name), resident area and mobile number are not revealed to the victim throughout the transaction (if any number of the name given is usually fake).
  • It also protects the identity of the criminal from forensic investigations as well as the security software used.

The theory provides a plan of action for law enforcement and security experts on how cybercriminals can equally receive a direct transfer to their account, in collaboration with the manager or cashier (CODAC, Back-up) of the bank.

When the money is being withdrawn, the transfer detail is deleted, and the persons get involved in the transaction get his/her share.

It should be noted that even certain agents in mobile operating companies support (toolkits with unlimited credit, or give the passwords of profiled agents to cybercriminals to browse with their identity) and cover cybercriminals with different identities.

The Triangular theory and Emergence of Cybercrime and identity theft by Saron (2015)

  1. The level which cybercriminal data is evaluated in Cameroon.
    1. Law enforcement officers and security experts during investigations usually target internet protocols, emails, and the receiver’s name.
    2. Cybercriminals operate with other tools that are unidentifiable, like tablets, iPod without sim cards and cybercafé computers, making it difficult to identify the user.
  2. An inadequate system of identification is another challenge.
    1. The biometric ID card cannot effectively combat cybercrime and identity theft.
    2. There are certain challenges within security agencies in issues of skimming and hacking which has to do with financial institutions with biometric cards.

The relevance of this theory as concerns cybercrime and identity theft is to caution the law enforcement and security experts, as well as mobile operators and banks on the mutations of non-conventional crimes in the world.

Also, to educate on the emergence of a new language adopted by cybercriminals.

This warrants censorship of cyberspace, collaboration with telecommunication agencies, as well as financial institution scrutiny of a database system.


The United States of America has proven to be a suitable target for cybercriminals and sovereignty free actors (terrorist organizations or terrorists). 

Though there exists several federal laws and agencies, criminals still get funded by victims (Mugu, Maga and JK, just to name a few) through cybercrimes and identity theft (Saron, 2017).

The Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continue to play a vital role in creating awareness on how to protect oneself from online victimization as well as information related to criminal investigations.

But the vetting process on immigrants and DV lottery winners should be stepped up.

The government should provide special agents in refugee camps, who will also assume the status of refuge to gather information and intelligence.

Nonetheless, cyber criminality remains an intellectual battle between cybercriminals and the state or government (Law Enforcement Officers and the Criminal Justice System).

(Norton explores the secret world of bulletproof hosting that’s hidden deep in underground bunkers, isolated at sea, and spread across the Web. Uncover the threats that lie within these services, such as botnets, malware, ransomware, and the black market, and learn how to protect yourself in “The Most Dangerous Town on the Internet – Where Cybercrime Goes to Hide.” Courtesy of Norton and YouTube. Posted on Mar 10, 2016)


Saron, O. (2017). Cybercrime and Identity theft in Cameroon: The Case Study of Buea Municipality. A Masters Thesis Submitted to the Department of Development Studies of the Pan African Institute for Development – West Africa (PAID-WA) Buea.

Saron, O. (2016) Cyber Criminality: An Intellectual Challenge to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the International Police (INTERPOL).