A comparison of fraud cues and classification methods for fake escrow website detection

Ahmed Abbasi, Hsinchun Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The ability to automatically detect fraudulent escrow websites is important in order to alleviate online auction fraud. Despite research on related topics, such as web spam and spoof site detection, fake escrow website categorization has received little attention. The authentic appearance of fake escrow websites makes it difficult for Internet users to differentiate legitimate sites from phonies; making systems for detecting such websites an important endeavor. In this study we evaluated the effectiveness of various features and techniques for detecting fake escrow websites. Our analysis included a rich set of fraud cues extracted from web page text, image, and link information. We also compared several machine learning algorithms, including support vector machines, neural networks, decision trees, naïve bayes, and principal component analysis. Experiments were conducted to assess the proposed fraud cues and techniques on a test bed encompassing nearly 90,000 web pages derived from 410 legitimate and fake escrow websites. The combination of an extended feature set and a support vector machines ensemble classifier enabled accuracies over 90 and 96% for page and site level classification, respectively, when differentiating fake pages from real ones. Deeper analysis revealed that an extended set of fraud cues is necessary due to the broad spectrum of tactics employed by fraudsters. The study confirms the feasibility of using automated methods for detecting fake escrow websites. The results may also be useful for informing existing online escrow fraud resources and communities of practice about the plethora of fraud cues pervasive in fake websites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-101
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Technology and Management
Issue number2-3 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - 2009


  • Fraud cues
  • Internet fraud
  • Machine learning
  • Online escrow services
  • Website classification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)


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