The e-crime epidemic

E-crime is on the rise globally, but in Britain we have no idea just how big the problem is because the government is “burying its head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist”. That’s the damning verdict of a Lords committee and industry leaders, who are worried that lack of funding for reporting, investigation and detection of cybercrimes could have catastrophic implications for British citizens and businesses.

The e-crime epidemic

The problem is so grave and there’s such apparent apathy from the police (only one in a 100 cases are pursued) that victims have been forced to take the law into their own hands, with a band of defrauded Ebay customers setting up a group of virtual vigilantes in an effort to snare the conmen that walked away with tens of thousands without sending the goods purchased.

Therein lies the problem: low-level crimes with no violence often aren’t considered worth following up, especially if the time, cost and effort of ploughing through computer records is beyond the skill of the average bobby. In fact, in the Ebay case mentioned above, a single police constable was assigned to investigate the case simply because he had an Ebay account and was interested in the subject.

We’re going to expose the shocking lack of resources devoted to investigating e-crime in Britain, and reveal how the police’s plans for tackling internet theft and ID fraud are in disarray.

The virtual vigilantes

How to report e-crime

Counting the cost

There’s a general perception that the police have largely washed their hands of e-crime. The House of Lords inquiry into Personal Internet Security first raised the issue, calling for sweeping changes to the way the internet is policed to prevent it from turning into a “wild west”. The Lords recommended an increase in funding to make sufficient skills and resources available to catch and prosecute e-criminals. They also called for a central body for reporting e-crime because, as minister Margaret Hodge told the inquiry, there simply are no government statistics on e-crime.

“They’re living in cloud cuckoo land if they think there isn’t a problem,” says Lord Erroll, a prominent member of the Lords Science and Technology Committee. “We don’t know quite how bad things have become today – there are no reliable figures for e-crime. We recommended that the government set up a group to develop a scheme for recording all forms of e-crime, but it’s chosen to ignore the idea.”

Without accurate reporting, we can only guess at the size of the problem. Identity fraud, much of which takes place online, cost the UK £1.5 billion in 2005 – the latest figures available from Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (CIFAS). But that’s just one strand of e-crime. A 2006 report from the Attorney General’s office says internet fraud accounts for 8% of all fraud in the UK. Even in the unlikely event that that figure hasn’t increased with the growth of broadband, £1.6 billion a year is still being snaffled by online fraudsters.

The government’s laughable grasp on ID fraud was highlighted when it rejected the Lords’ assertion that organisations are failing to protect personal data properly, and that the government wasn’t taking the problem seriously. “We don’t accept that the incidence of loss of personal data by companies is on an upward path, and we don’t accept that the government is indifferent to the problem,” the government said in a statement, just days before losing the personal details of 25 million people on a couple of CDs.

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