Cyber criminal

Online fraud needs higher police priority, watchdog declares

British police forces and the country's government are not taking the growing threat of cyberfraud seriously enough, public spending watchdog the National Audit Office has said in a report

The UK's National Audit Office (NAO) today said the overall cost of all forms of fraud was £10bn to individuals and £144bn to the private sector as a whole in the last calendar year – though the way in which the crime is recorded means this may even be an underestimate of the scale of the problem.

Much of this criminal activity was enabled by the internet, leading to calls from some former police insiders for more public money to be handed to law enforcement to recruit the brightest IT brains.

NAO chief Sir Amyas Morse said: For too long, as a low-value but high-volume crime, online fraud has been overlooked by government, law enforcement and industry. It is now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales and demands an urgent response.

The Home Office’s response currently is “not proportionate”, an NAO report, released today, also stated. It said there was a lack of data on how many fraudsters are convicted annually and the sentences they receive. The NAO also said the way in which banks work together to respond to scams needed to be beefed up, and it called for greater cross-border coordination by police.

Chris Hobbs, a former Metropolitan Police officer with contacts inside the Greater London force, which is Britains largest, told E&T: “The problem, I think, comes down to resources and money. There’s been a lot of talk about employing civilian staff, very much like what the Serious Fraud Office was doing. I think there’s a huge case for employing civilian staff with expertise in cybercrime to work under the auspices of the police, but the problem is, who’s going to pay for it?

“If we want the best people, in terms of detection of online fraud, they are going to be picked up by the banks who also want the best and who can offer higher salaries. Ultimately it’s the police who are going to have to arrest people and put cases before the courts, though, which is not easy. A lot of online fraud emanates from abroad, which of course makes it extremely difficult from a British policing point of view. You can’t imagine your average detective constable in a small force being able to deal with a case about cyber fraud.”

Hobbs, who has become a regular commentator on the police in national newspapers since retiring from the Met, added: “The government has got to put its hand its pocket. The starting salary for a police constable outside of London is around £24,000 a year, while in London it’s about £28,000. Police forces just can’t compete with what the banks offer.”

Though ‘white collar’ crime is viewed as less of a priority nationally than fighting terrorism or pursuing murderers and sex offenders, online fraud can be a serious business for organised criminals who often use their ill-gotten gains to fund other types of criminality which can have a physical, sometimes deadly, impact on people.

City of London Police, which is funded partly by banks in the Square Mile, currently leads the charge in terms of tackling fraud. Reports can come via Action Fraud, but currently not all incidents are recorded as crimes, meaning the true scale may be far greater than the most recent data suggests.

With ever greater numbers of people using cards to make payments online rather than in person, criminals have increasingly taken to stealing card details over the internet. One potential way of addressing this involves introducing new cards that can change their security code – the number on the back of the card – every hour to prevent the use of stolen card data. Greater use of biometrics for identity authentication has also in the past been proposed.

The Home Office said the government was acting to tackle online fraud but acknowledged that more needed to be done.

Tackling online fraud demands a collaborative and innovative response to keep pace with the emerging threat, a spokesman said.

The Joint Fraud Taskforce is now working to develop a cross-industry strategic plan to specifically tackle fraud where a person's bank card is being fraudulently used online or over the phone.

We are also working together to identify what makes a person susceptible to falling victim to fraud in order to reduce an individual's vulnerability to this.

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