About £13bn of fraud was committed in the UK in 2005, but the figure could be on the conservative side, a report commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers said today.
The report, which examined existing primary data sources about fraud of all types, noted how unreliable much of the data is and how difficult it is to aggregate because of inconsistency in reporting standards.
This has left the police with a dilemma - fraud might be so bad that if we knew the true extent of the crime we would be daunted by the impossibility of finding resources to do anything about it.
"In the light of the very low level of current fraud reporting and the potential enormity of what might follow if victims were encouraged to report all fraud there is a very real danger of raising expectations for official action that might not be able to be met, whether by the police or by any other body," the report said.
The best estimate the ACPO report could make had it that there was £1bn of fraud committed against the financial services industry, £0.93 billion against other businesses, £2.75bn against private individuals.
A whopping £6.43bn was "conservatively estimated" to have been defrauded from the public sector at a national level, while just £0.04bn was defrauded from local bodies.
One of the problems noted in the report is the temptation to report all sources of fraud as identity fraud, rather than treating it as a separate category.
Someone stealing and using a credit card is not committing identity fraud in the same way as someone stealing an identity to apply for a new credit card.
Michael Levi, professor of social sciences at Cardiff University and one of the report authors, said that reports describing levels of identity fraud might be more accurate if they excluded data about stolen credit cards.
He said while stolen credit cards were still important, chip and pin card security was squeezing such theft out of the crime figures. "Criminals might have to make more effort to impersonate someone." ®