Online fraud is now the most common crime in the country with almost one in ten people falling victim, the latest figures have revealed. More than five and a half million cyber offences are now thought to take place each year accounting for almost half of all crime in the country. But just a fraction of offences are reported to the police because victims either feel embarrassed or believe little can be done to catch those responsible. The figures were revealed in the annual Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) which seeks to accurately assess the number of offences by interviewing people about their personal experience of crime. According to the survey the total number of all offences in the 12 months to September topped 11.8 million, of which 3.6 million were fraud and further 2 million were related to computer misuse. The next most common offence was theft with 3.5 million cases, while there was 1.2 million incidents of criminal damage and 1.3 million offences of violence against the person.
Victims of online fraud are often targeted by criminals based overseas who use a variety of sophisticated techniques to gain access their bank accounts or credit card details before plundering their savings. Many of those who suffer losses are elderly or vulnerable people who fall victim to so-called phishing scams in which they are persuaded to hand over passwords and bank account details. But such is the scale and extent of online fraud that anyone who uses computers to bank, shop or even communicate with friends could be a target. Lucy Hastings, Director at the independent charity Victim Support, said:“We know that cyber crime and fraud can have a devastating impact, both financially and emotionally, on victims’ lives.
“Many victims blame themselves or feel too embarrassed to come forward and get help but this shouldn’t be the case.
“We want to encourage people to seek the help they may need and get the justice they deserve.”
While traditional crimes such as burglary and car theft continue to fall, almost ten per cent of the adult population reports having been a victim of some form of cyber crime. It is the first time that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has included online offences in the annual survey and the result has seen the overall crime figure almost double. John Flatley of the ONS said: “In the past, burglary and theft of vehicles were the high-volume crimes driving trends but their numbers have fallen substantially since then.
“When the CSEW started, fraud was not considered a significant threat and the internet had yet to be invented.
“Today’s figures demonstrate how crime has changed, with fraud now the most commonly experienced offence.”
But despite the scale of the problem more than 80 per cent of all fraud offences are not reported to the police, meaning many of those responsible can operate without fear of ever been caught. While the CSEW figures suggest there were 3.6 million cases of fraud last year, police only recorded 622,000 such offences. Chief Constable Jeff Farrar, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council acknowledged that under reporting was a problem.
He said: “These latest figures show that there were 1.9 million cases of fraud on UK-issued cards, which is an increase of 39 per cent on the previous year. The vast majority of these are not reported to the police, who have only seen a 3 per cent increase in fraud offences.”
He added: “The ability to commit crime online demonstrates the need for policing to adapt and transform to tackle these cyber challenges.”
Rather than reporting offences to Action Fraud, which is the police body that coordinates the fight against cyber crime, many victims simply take the issue up with their bank in a bid to recover their losses. But a spokesman for Action Fraud, which is run by the City of London Police, said it was vital victims reported crimes so that work could be done to bring those to justice. The ONS report also revealed that police recorded an annual rise of 22 per cent in violent offences, although that was said to be largely driven by the inclusion of harassment offences and online trolling in that category. However there was a “genuine but small” increase in the number of knife related offences, prompting the outgoing Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe to say “warning lights were flashing” and appeal for frontline services to be protected. Other figures released by the Home Office also showed which crimes were increasing and which were decreasing. While modern slavery was up almost 300 per cent, trafficking for sexual exploitation fell by 91 per cent. Homicide, was up 22 per cent but much of that increase was down to the inclusion of the 96 Liverpool football fans who died at Hillsborough in April 1989. They were included in this year’s statistics after an inquest last year concluded that they had been unlawfully killed.
Author – Martin Evans and Patrick Scott