Detective Chief Inspector Matt Walker, who leads North Yorkshire Police’s cyber-crime unit, said the biggest cyber threat faced by police was “people exposing themselves to risk through a lack of understanding about how material can be accessed online”.
And he warned of the risk of exploitation posed to those in the county’s more isolated and well-off communities, as well as those in urban areas, whose activities might make them vulnerable to fraudsters.
North Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan said she was aware of local farmers being targeted and some victims losing their life savings to online criminals, though she said cyber-crime did not just affect the rich.
She said one North Yorkshire resident had come to her having been scammed out of £100,000 and told her case was not serious enough to be investigated by a major national agency.
Mrs Mulligan called for local forces such as North Yorkshire’s to provide better prevention advice and to do more to help local victims, as those falling prey to overseas gangs were often passed around different agencies and “fall though the cracks” after reporting offences.
In a survey last year by NFU Mutual, 63 per cent of those polled nationally revealed that cyber-crime is a growing concern for rural communities.
Official figures on the number of recorded offences are likely to be a substantial under-estimate as many victims do not report what has happened if they can get their money back from their bank.
The North Yorkshire Police Cybercrime unit, made up of three Detective Constables, was launched last April to tackle the growing threat posed by criminals using the internet and technology.
Since its launch ten months ago, it is has been involved in the arrests of more than 30 suspected paedophiles in the county, for offences relating to the sharing of indecent images of children.
Talking about the dangers of people posting too much information about themselves online, Mr Walker said this could take the form of sharing naked photos of themselves or revealing too much to a dating fraudster.
He said: “These aren’t things that are particular to North Yorkshire, but we do have some very isolated communities who rely on the internet to maintain friendships and keep in touch with people.
“We also have some very affluent communities who, if they talk too much about themselves, stand a greater risk of people trying to take advantage of them.
“The biggest threat people are under is imposed on them by themselves by not thinking about whether they have put something online or kept their security settings up to date.”
He added: “It is not just children and young people who fall victim to online exploitation, many adults do too.
“More and more we are hearing about individuals on dating sites who have been tricked into sending money to a potential partner, only to find out that person was in fact a criminal.
“Identity fraud is also a significant threat to adults up and down the country, as mentioned before, with one in four having fallen victim to this type of crime.”
Julia Mulligan said the national infrastructure dealing with cyber-crime needed to “dramatically improve”, and that Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, “had been hugely problematic for a long time”.
She said: “It is a reporting mechanism where people think action is going to be taken, but it doesn’t. Nothing happens. People get pushed from pillar to post and no-one takes any responsibility.
“Local forces need to tackle crimes affecting local people as well as they can. It can be very difficult sometimes because the perpetrators may not be in this country.
“The biggest thing that police can do is provide really good prevention advice. I don’t think the police in North Yorkshire are doing that effectively and they are not doing it effectively across the country.
“Local authorities have a role to play in this. They are very often in contact with businesses in their area. Chambers of commerce and other organisations need to be able to offer advice to people about what measures they can put in place.
“It is analogous to the fact that a quarter of burglaries are possible because people leave their premises unsecured. In the same way people need to keep their online premises secured so people can’t break in.”
Advice from North Yorkshire Police on not falling prey to cyber-criminals:
- Make sure you check the validity of sites if you are purchasing items or booking holidays.
- Never provide bank details via email if you are not one hundred percent sure of the receiver of your email.
- Always make sure you know who you are talking to online.
- “Really think about the information you are posting on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and the data you are providing when making bookings or purchases online. The modern day criminal has the technology and ingenuity to piece together data and personal information in order to target you via the internet.”