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By | Alexander J Martin 15th October 2015 10:58

'Traditional' forms of thuggery decline in UK, cybercrime on the rise

Or survey-takers misunderstood the question...

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released information suggesting cybercrime incidents are growing more prevalent in British society than traditional criminal incidents, and has noted that this may be due to more criminal enterprises transitioning to the digital world.

Included for the first time among the ONS's crime estimates was the prevalence of cybercrime (eg, hacking and online/telephone fraud). Cybercrime is now more common than traditional crime, the Office suggested, with more than seven million incidents of fraud and computer misuse estimated to have occurred within the last year.

"This does not necessarily imply a recent rise in crime," read the ONS press release, "as the new measures bring into scope a large volume of offences not previously included in the Crime Survey for England and Wales."

ONS suggested its estimates should be considered in the context of the diminishing crime rate over the last two decades, at least "in the more traditional forms of crime, from 19 million incidents a year in 1995 to under 7 million a year today."

There has been debate about whether or not levels of fraud and cybercrime experienced by the household population have been increasing, and if so have they risen to such a degree to make up for the long term falls in traditional types of crime.

Released today as part of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), the Developments in the Coverage of Fraud section estimated over five million incidents of fraud had taken place in the UK over the past year, with more than half of those incidents involving initial financial loss to the victim - though it was often possible to reclaim, at least in part, the losses suffered.

In addition to online and telephone fraud, the CSEW estimated there were 2.5 million incidents of crime falling under the Computer Misuse Act - the majority of which were virus infections, with the second largest area covered regarding respondents' email and social media accounts being "hacked".

There was an increase of 9 per cent in the volume of fraud offences referred to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) at the City of London Police. Nearly 600,000 offences were referred to NFIB, including 237,494 offences reported by victims to Action Fraud (the UK's national fraud reporting centre), 266,701 referrals from Cifas (a UK-wide fraud prevention service) and 95,489 cases from FFA UK (that represents the UK payments industry). Today’s publication also includes the first estimates of fraud and cyber-crime from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

The methodology of the survey has provoked scepticism from many quarters, as it was based on "a large scale field trial of 2,000 households" during the summer of 2015. A 71-page document explaining the methodology is available here (PDF). The CSEW reports that out of 2,072 adults interviewed:

  • 5,110 incidents of fraud were reported, of which 2,648 causes loss (including those reimbursed)
  • 2,460 incidents of computer misuse were reported, of which 404 were unauthorised access to personal information and 2,057 described as " computer virus"

The ONS admitted that there did "appear to have been some misunderstanding among respondents as to what would constitute any internet or online activity being involved in the offence" and added that "as this is such a key variable for analysis it is recommended that a further question to check this is added," the survey recognised. ®

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