‘Traditional’ crime overtaken by online offences across Yorkshire

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Online crime is now even more prevalent in Yorkshire than traditional offences but is still “massively under-reported”, the woman in charge of region’s cyber unit has said.

The comments, from DCI Vanessa Smith of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Cyber Crime Unit, come as one force reveals half its reported offences have links to the internet.

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South Yorkshire Police (SYP) said cyber crime now accounts for around 50 per cent of all crime reported to the force and is a growing threat nationally.

DCI Smith said: “Cyber crime is massively under-reported. Nationally, more crime is now happening online than off-line. That is reflected across the region.

“It’s fair for us to evaluate resources and opportunities to investigate avenues for us to protect the most vulnerable and bring offenders to justice.”

The investigation, by The Yorkshire Post and its sister titles, found that police forces across the country reported an 86 per cent rise in reports of cyber crime in the past year alone, while dedicating only a fraction of their budgets towards solving them.

The average spend on cyber crime across nine forces which provided figures was just one per cent. One force, Cambridgeshire, spent £722,000 or 0.55 per cent of its annual budget on cyber crime.

South Yorkshire Police said it had no dedicated budgets for its new cyber crime unit. Humberside, the only force in Yorkshire to reveal its figures, spends £1.9m – 1.1 per cent.

Det Insp Kevin Foster said the force had a dedicated unit and has recently arrested a number of suspected hackers: “Cyber crime is a growing area of criminality and balancing resources with this and the other demands made upon the police is always difficult.”

Fraud is now estimated to cost the British economy as much as £193bn a year – significantly more than the £122bn annual cost of the NHS – with 70 per cent of those offences enabled using computers. Nationally, up to 85 per cent of online crimes reported are going unsolved, and of 4,310 incidents in South Yorkshire in the past three years, more than 2,000 cases were dropped either because no suspect could be identified or because of “evidential difficulties”.

Other senior officers around the county said online crimes pose unique challenges in bringing offenders to justice as forces juggle finite resources.

“One of the key challenges is evidence,” said DS Steve Thomas, head of crime operations at North Yorkshire Police (NYP). “In terms of cyber crime, it isn’t quite as tangible. They could well be sat a thousands miles away in another country, but the impact on the victim is still substantial.” He also said older people in the county are among those being targeted: “We have an affluent area, rural communities and an ageing population. They are often targeted by those for their financial clout.

“Our victim group is aged 60 to 69. We’ve had a number of successes in the past few weeks where criminals are targeting elderly victims and pressuring them to go to their bank. The banks immediately contact us, and we immediately go out.”

While NYP reported a 25 per cent drop in reports last year, this was for what forces call ‘cyber enabled’ crime, while a more specific category of ‘cyber dependent’ crime such as hacking is also recorded.

While there was a drop in the former, he said, the latter saw a “significant” increase of 79 per cent in the last quarter.

“We have to encourage people to come forward,” said DS Thomas. “We can only get better if people have the confidence in coming forward, even if that means that crime reports will go up further.”

chairwoman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier said: “We should be in no doubt that we need to raise our game when it comes to cyber security. The threat of cyber crime is growing.”

A Home Office spokesman said the Government is committed to improving its response. “We are investing £1.9bn to support the national cyber security strategy until 2021, which includes ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have the capacity to deal with the increasing volume and sophistication of cyber crime.

“It is for police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide how best to deploy resources to manage and respond to crime in their areas.”