The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that in the 12 months leading up to March 2016 there were six million instances of fraud and cyber crimes perpetrated against UK citizens. If that measure is correct, half of all the crimes committed in the UK are cyber crimes, the most of any statistical group.
This is the first time that the national crime survey conducted by the ONS has tracked cyber crimes. The inclusion revealed starkly higher levels of criminality than past surveys, alarming some initial observers. John Flattery, a statistician with the ONS, responded to that alarm saying, “Together, these offenses are similar in magnitude to the existing headline figures covering all other Crime Survey offenses. However, it would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offenses. These improvements to the Crime Survey will help to measure the scale of the threat from these crimes, and help shape the response.”
Since past levels of cyber crime were not reported, it becomes difficult to make broad conclusions about trends in cyber crime. However, the ONS has kept figures for plastic card fraud since 2006. The figures spiked in 2010, and then fell off following the introduction of cards with an EMV chip. In 2016, only 4.7% of people with a plastic card fell victim to fraud.
There were a reported 2 million instances of fraud and cyber crime involving computers specifically, with more than 2/3 of those involving a virus of some sort. The rest related to unauthorized access to private information, including instances of hacking. In the UK, 51% of all instances of fraud are somehow cyber related.
Experts attribute the frequency of cyber crime to simple economics. As larger sums of money become increasingly and more easily accessible in digital environments, it creates a powerful incentive for cyber criminals to try and compromise those environments. The goal of the ONS survey is to highlight the scope of the problem and spur on a public and political response.
The statistics revealed that the victims of cyber crime are more likely to be from higher income households and working in a professional capacity. They are also rarely reimbursed after an instance of fraud. Only 43% (1.6 million) of victims received a full reimbursement for their losses, and as many as 690,000 received no reimbursement or only partial reimbursement.
In order to avoid the most common types of cyber crime, users are advised to install a reliable security solution on all devices, install all updates immediately, download materials only from trusted sources, and to open email attachments with caution.