Cyber crime in the county has more than trebled in the past two years, The Yorkshire Post can reveal today, with children as young as nine becoming embroiled in serious online offences.
The four-month investigation reveals the growing scale of internet offences, as some forces admit they face a huge challenge in catching “faceless” criminals who could be based anywhere in the world.
Among the shocking offences investigated in Yorkshire as having been committed at least in part with the help of the internet were crimes of bigamy, conspiracy to murder and kidnapping.
West Yorkshire Police’s chief constable Dee Collins said cyber crime is “one of the most significant threats facing us today”.
“We are all potential targets,” she said. “The fact is, criminals are still coming into our homes, but today they are just as likely to be doing that through our wi-fi connection as they are through the open window.”
Across Yorkshire’s four forces, there’s been a 223 per cent rise in offences reported to the police in the past two years, but experts warn the true picture is even worse with a massively under-reported “tidal wave” of cyber crime costing billions of pounds a year.
Nationally, the investigation found, as few as two per cent of online crimes are being reported, with victims often too embarrassed or worried about reputational damage to come forward, or even simply unaware that they have been targeted.
Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, who works in the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “Fraud and cyber crime is the most prevalent type of crime in the country.
“In that sense, it is the most harmful and problematic crime there is.
“But there is no law that people have to report a crime when they suffer it. If a bank suffered a £1m robbery after having their safe blown open, technically, they would not be obliged to report that to the police.
“This is one of the reasons why we don’t see anything like a fraction of the cyber crimes that are actually committed.”
Across Yorkshire, all four forces saw a rise in the past two years, with two – Humberside and South Yorkshire Police – seeing reported offences more than double in the past 12 months alone.
In 2014/15, 2,238 offences were reported to the four forces but by 2016/17, this increased to 7,248, a rise of 223 per cent.
It also emerged that on six occasions in the past three years, South Yorkshire Police have dropped cyber crime investigations after discovering suspects in their cases were under ten years old, which is the age of criminal responsibility.
And more than 100 other children aged 17 and under were the focus of criminal investigations linked to the internet in South Yorkshire in the same period, receiving either cautions or community orders after admitting offences.