Official stats measure cyber-crime for the first time

For the first time cyber offences are to be included in official UK crime statistics, painting a very different picture of who is being victimised and how.

Cyber crime is finally recognised in official stats
Cyber crime is finally recognised in official stats

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has trialled new ways to incorporate cyber-crime into official statistics.

For the first time the ONS released preliminary estimates on cyber-crime. As part of its annual release of crime stats, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) the ONS estimated several new and shocking developments.

The ONS estimated there were 5.1 million cases of fraud during the 12 months to June. This figure includes cyber-fraud but also traditional types as well. In addition to that, 2.5 million incidents were estimated to be in breach of the Computer Misuse Act. Of those cases, 404,000 involve actual hacking while 2,057,000 were cases of infection with a computer virus.

Previously not included in official crime statistics, the inclusion of figures for fraud and cyber-crime will paint a different picture from the traditional view of crime as a physical act involving theft or violence. 

The survey recorded 6.5 million offences covering non-cyber crimes such as theft, robbery, assault and murder, an eight percent decline on the previous year. But when you factor in fraud and cyber-crime, the figures jump by over 100 percent. 

The UK officially measures crime in two ways. First, the official police statistics, which track recorded crime. Second is the CSEW, an independent survey based on interviews in households, which includes crimes that have not been reported to the police. 

The results of this CSEW are the results of a field trial carried out between May and August of this year and based on a sample size of 2000.

The ONS has stated that crime has been broadly falling over the years but, as the ONS itself acknowledges, this is because the figures have until now not included cyber-crime or fraud. "As shown in CSEW estimates, crime is down from 19 million at its peak in 1995 to under 7 million offences in the year ending June 2015. It has been argued that crime has not actually fallen but changed, moving to newer forms of crime not captured by the survey measurement," the authors stated in the report. 

Earlier this year, Adrian Leppard, commissioner of the City of London Police, told the Telegraph that around a quarter of organised crime groups in the UK are involved in financial crime. A report on UK crime statistics by researchers at the University of Cambridge, released at the same time, showed that six out of ten cyber-criminals had criminal records which were completely unrelated to cyber-crime, showing that, “those traditional offenders are changing their behaviour and moving to the internet”.

Given the growing awareness of cyber-crime in recent years, why has it taken authorities this long to include cyber-crime in the annual crime survey? 

Joe Traynor of the ONS spoke to SC, offering some insight: “Since taking over responsibility for the crime statistics in April 2012, ONS has been working to improve their coverage and developing and testing questions on fraud and cyber-crime over the last 12-18 months.”

Traynor added that there are a range of complex issues surrounding the recording of cyber-crimes. “For example, with traditional crimes it is generally easy to identify and recall the number of separate incidents and therefore estimate them accurately. Fraud and cyber-crime raises difficult issues such as whether or not you include attempts to commit crime as crimes (as we do for traditional crimes)” or, “whether or not you count a series of linked fraudulent transactions as a single or multiple crime”.

One of the traditional problems with recording cyber-crime is that often people either don't know it has happened or don't report it at all and so may not turn up on the police statistics. 

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