Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that fraud is the most common category of crime in the UK at present. The data shows that nearly six million instances of fraud and cyber crime were perpetrated across England and Wales in 2015, the majority of which were cases of banking fraud.
The data comes from the ONS’ regular Crime Survey for England and Wales. This is the first time that the survey has included questions related to fraud and misuse of computers. Based on the results of the survey, the ONS estimates that the year to March saw 3.8 million offences classed as fraud and around two million cases of computer misuse. This would mean fraud offences take place more often in England and Wales than any other type of criminal activity.
The most common category of fraud was banking and credit account fraud. This accounted for an estimated 2.5 million cases. This was followed by non-investment fraud, which includes things such as online retail scams. Of the estimated two million offences of computer misuse, most – around 1.4 million – involved the use of a virus to infect the victim’s computer or another internet-capable device in order to facilitate the offence. The other 0.6 million cases of computer misuse fall into the category of “unauthorised access to personal information,” which includes things like hacking in order to obtain a person’s sensitive details.
The number of fraud and computer misuse cases is greater than thought. The ONS previously estimated a figure of around five million based on a “large-scale field trial.”
The data on fraud and cyber crime is separate from other data recently reported by the ONS, which estimates a total of 6.3 million offences against adults in the twelve months leading up to March. This is a decrease of 6% compared to the figures from the previous year’s survey.
As the ONS’ John Flatley points out, the data for fraud and cyber crime suggests that these kinds of crime “are similar in magnitude to the existing headline figures covering all other crime survey offences.” Taken together, the two categories of offence that have been newly added to the survey fall short of matching all other crime by a relatively small 0.5 million offences.
“However,” Flatly continued, “it would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offences.”
Data on fraud and computer misuse was only gathered through the second half of the twelve month period analysed, since the relevant questions were only added to the survey in November. The data for the last half of the year was then scaled up to provide an estimate for how many such offences took place over the full twelve month period.