ONS fraud and cybercrime stats the tip of the iceberg

By Dr. Jessica Barker

Today the Office of National Statistics have released results from their latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) which is understood to be the best measure of crime trends for the population. The survey shows a 6% fall in the number of ‘traditional crime’ incidents against adults, with 6.3 million incidents recorded. For the first time, the CSEW has started including fraud and cybercrime and the results highlight the extent to which these ‘new’ crimes have grown compared to ‘traditional’ crime. The survey estimates that there were 3.8 million fraud and 2 million computer misuse offences experienced in the year ending March 2016, therefore reaching almost the same number as traditional crimes. For the time being, these CSEW findings are ‘experimental statistics’ as they were only captured for six months (between October 2015 and March 2016). The ONS are going to continue recording rates of fraud and cybercrime as experienced by individuals and so, as more data is released, we will be able to more accurately assess levels of fraud and cybercrime.

The most common types of fraud reported in the CSEW were bank and credit account fraud, with 2.5 million incidents experienced by the population. Accounting for 1.4 million of the computer misuse incidents was a computer or device being infected with a virus. The statistics as a whole show that we are more likely to be a victim of fraud or cybercrime than any other crime, with one in ten experiencing an incident.

Apart from the huge magnitude of fraud and cybercrime as captured by the ONS report, a couple of other points are particularly telling about the findings. The fact that ONS have never recorded these forms of crime in the past reflects the extent to which organisations, and society as a whole, have failed to keep pace with fraud and cybercrime. These are not victimless crimes and the extent to which they affect individuals, businesses of all shapes and sizes and the overall economy has been growing for years. It is also worth noting that crime statistics generally do not reflect the true extent of criminality, especially when it comes to fraud and cybercrime. The CSEW captures the rate of incidents experienced by individuals, and so for a crime to become a statistic in this report, the victim must know that they have been attacked and must report it in the CSEW. Unfortunately, many acts of fraud and cybercrime are carried out undetected. Reports suggest, for example, that it takes an organisation approximately 229 days to detect criminal hackers in their system. It is safe to assume, therefore, that these recorded statistics are only the tip of the iceberg.