A report published today (19 March 2015) by the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee reveals how Londoners are living in fear of being victims of online fraud and other cyber-crimes.
The survey - "Tightening the net: the Metropolitan Police Service’s response to online theft and fraud" - looks into the trends in online theft and fraud and assesses how the Met is dealing with the threat to businesses and the public alike. 63 per cent of Londoners are worried about becoming victims of fraud through using online banking or by using their credit or debit cards on the internet. Tellingly, of the 1,004 Londoners surveyed, a higher proportion had been the victim of an online theft or fraud than of more traditional forms of property crime, such as burglary or robbery.
The report highlights the following issues:
- Increasingly, almost all crimes have a ‘cyber-dimension’ to them.
- Fraud, in particular, has been transformed, with 70 per cent of frauds now carried out using the internet.
- City of London Police estimates that, across England and Wales, 1,160,500 frauds, with a loss worth £12.1 billion, went unreported by individuals and businesses during 2013-14.
- Some large businesses currently make a commercial decision not to report online crimes to the police, particularly if they feel there is little chance that the perpetrators will be caught.
- The Mayor should launch a London-wide campaign in partnership with the City of London Police, banks and other key stakeholders to raise awareness of the threat of online crime.
The report recommends that the Met Police should appoint a senior ranking officer responsible to ensure that "the whole force is prepared to tackle online crime – not just the Met’s new Fraud and Linked Crime Online (FALCON) Command" says the London Assembly.
Chairman of the Online Crime Working Group, Roger Evans AM, said;
"We’re glad to see that traditional forms of property crime such as burglary and robbery are falling but a worrying trend is emerging in the rise of online crime. Criminals can now target large numbers of people for little or no cost and with only limited technical knowledge. E-mail scams, for example, have become a low-risk, high-gain form of theft for criminals" said Assembly Member Roger Evans who chairs the Online Crime Working Group.
"Our report makes recommendations which we believe will help tackle the very real threat of online crime head on. Londoners need to be savvy to the large number of criminals now operating from their laptops rather than our streets. We must create a police force that bears down on criminals who feel that the internet is their safe haven."
Jeff Gardner, Director at Victim Support in London, said: "As a charity that supports thousands of crime victims every year, we know that cyber crime can be terrifying – it can make victims feel like they are facing a powerful and invisible attacker. Many victims feel like there’s nothing that can be done to stop online attackers and that they are alone, but this isn’t the case".
"It’s so important that people take steps to protect themselves online too – lots of tips can be found on our website."
There is some criticism for the Met Police in the report.
"The police are behind the curve when it comes to tackling online crime. The research base for policing the cyber-threat is not as well developed as in other areas of policing and, in some cases, there is a lack of appetite among police forces and officers to tackle offences such as cyber-fraud, often not seen as exciting crimes to investigate" it says.
"Better co-operation between the police and other organisations is needed as well. The police service has claimed that banks and others do not routinely report offences because they do not wish to reveal how vulnerable they are".
The problem is actually wider than raw statistics suggest says the report as under-reporting of cyber-crime and online fraud is widespread.
"Criminologists have identified a number of reasons why victims may be reluctant to report an online fraud including:
- Feeling that the relatively small amounts of money involved do not make pursuing the matter worthwhile.
- Feeling embarrassed about having been “taken in” by a fraudster.
- Feeling that there is little likelihood of a successful outcome, especially if the person who has defrauded them is seemingly located in another country."
The scale of this under-reporting is significant argues the report. "In 2013-14, Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau recorded 211,000 crimes in England and Wales with a reported loss of £2.2 billion. But the City of London Police estimated that a further 1,160,500 crimes, with a loss worth £12.1 billion, were not reported by individuals and businesses.37 The police were therefore not informed about 85 per cent of fraud and online crime offences that occurred in 2013-14".
About the survey
The London Assembly commissioned TNS Omnibus to carry out a victimisation survey. It asked a representative sample of 1,004 Londoners aged 16 or over in an online survey about their experiences of crime. In particular, the survey compared respondents’ experiences and perceptions of online crime against experiences and perceptions of traditional forms of property crime.
The survey was conducted between 9 October 2014 and 14 October 2014.
Photo by Cory Doctorow used under CC License.