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Latest statistics bulletin issued by ONS highlights 6% fall in criminality

10 February 2021

THE LATEST figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales have been released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). They show that there has been a 6% fall in the overall level of crime recorded in the 12-month period under examination, although there are variations apparent across different categories of criminality.

Covering the period from October 2019 to September 2020, the statistics include the first six months of COVID-19 restrictions and show a 9% fall in most victim-based crime including sexual offences, robbery, assaults causing injury, theft and criminal damage. However, there was a 10% increase in domestic abuse-related offences.

Commenting on the figures, chief constable Andy Cooke (the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for crime operations) said: “These statistics show the overall level of crime has broadly decreased. We’ve seen sustained falls in crime recorded through periods of national lockdowns as the public have largely stayed at home and helped to stop the spread of the COVID virus.”

Cooke went on to state: “The police service has continued to focus its attentions on protecting victims of domestic abuse from harm and catching the perpetrators, working closely with all of our partners to make sure victims receive the support they need. That situation hasn’t changed due to the COVID restrictions imposed by the Government.”

Many police forces have stepped up their response to domestic abuse and have been innovative in light of new national and regional lockdowns. On that note, Cooke observed: “We’re grateful for all the partnership working across the entire sector. We will continue to take stock and learn from each other as we seek to improve the police response and referral process. For some domestic abuse victims, home will not be a safe place. People should seek help if they feel that they’re in danger.”

Drugs and linked violence

Cooke also said: “Tackling the supply of drugs and linked violence and organised crime is a police priority and our tactics are working. Forces have effectively used spare capacity during the lockdowns to proactively pursue criminals supplying drugs and causing harm and violence across communities, which has led to a 16% increase in drug possession arrests.”

With 6,620 new police recruits now operating in forces as part of the Government’s uplift of 20,000 new officers across a set time period, the police service is able to continue to target persistent criminals who inflict misery on the public.

According to Josh Gunnell, head of fraud and ID pre-sales at TransUnion in the UK, the latest ONS fraud statistics reveal the sheer scale of the challenge faced in the UK as cyber criminals take advantage of the digitalisation of society. UK Finance has reported a 61% increase in remote banking fraud, which equates to 61,752 incidents, while Action Fraud reveals social media and e-mail hacking fraud jumped 53% to 14,241 offences in the year ending September 2020.

“These increases in digital fraud are likely to continue given the shifts to online that have been accelerated by the pandemic alongside the social distancing and lockdown measures that continue to be imposed,” asserted Gunnell. “This is echoed by TransUnion’s own research tracking the impact of COVID-19 in the UK. Our figures show that, at the end of 2020, 30% of respondents had been targeted in a digital fraud attempt related to the pandemic, with 7% of those targeted falling victim to the scams.”

Fraudsters quick to adapt

Fraudsters adapt quickly, as we’ve seen recently with the rise in investment scams circulating on Instagram and other social media channels. Businesses need to be equally agile, continually reviewing and adapting their fraud prevention strategies and tools.

“Even some of the strategies to prevent fraud can themselves become vectors of fraud, such as the ‘confirmation of payee’ scheme,” continued Gunnell. “This is in place to better protect consumers, but has given rise to a spike in phishing texts telling the target that a new payee has been set up and directing them to click a link for details. The threats evolve continually and, in the current environment, with people banking and shopping almost exclusively online, these risks are greater than ever.”

The ONS figures would suggest fairly similar levels of overall fraud as the previous year, with 4.4 million fraud offences reported for the 12 months to September 2020. However, TransUnion sees a varied picture from the different bodies within the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau for the same period. Action Fraud reported a 4% rise, UK Finance reported a 23% increase and Cifas reported a 9% decrease.

In conclusion, Gunnell told Security Matters: “As well as the nuances of the different reporting methods, we must also take into account the fact that fraud is often going unreported. Our own research into this last year showed that 75% of COVID-related fraud had not been reported.”

TransUnion expects to see continuing fluctuations in the different types of fraud as the nation navigates its way through the pandemic. Vigilance is going to be key. As well as having all the essential checks in place, businesses can educate consumers to help them spot some of the signs and notify their customers when known scams are circulating.

Cyber crimes going unreported

Also commenting on the ONS bulletin for Crime in England and Wales for the year ending September 2020, Richard Hall (senior associate in the Data Protection and Cyber Security team at DWF) explained: “When compared to previous reports, the ONS figures in this latest document show that there was a fluctuation in the number and type of crimes committed/reported during the 2020 lockdown periods in England and Wales. However, one continuing trend that can be seen from the data is the low number of computer misuse offences reported by individuals, with an estimated 29,094 computer misuse offences reported.”

He added: “When compared to the 1.7 million computer misuse offences estimated to have been committed during the same period [telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales], this becomes a worrying statistic for the relevant authorities tasked with computer misuse enforcement and prevention.”

Elaborating on this issue, Hall observed: “Given the victim blame culture that exists with these offences, as well as the general public perception that there’s limited action that the relevant authorities can or will take against the offending criminals, it’s perhaps not surprising to see such low numbers of reports being made. In turn, the low level of criminal complaints, combined with the potentially high gains that can be made from cyber crimes, makes these offences an attractive proposition for would-be criminals. This is only likely to perpetuate as the world starts to look at longer-term remote working conditions.”

As far as Hall’s concerned, there’s no doubt that more can – and must – be done by the relevant authorities to tackle and prevent cyber crimes. “We should all be asking questions to scrutinise and hold the relevant authorities to account. However, on the evidence of the data available, we all need to take some responsibility and can all start to help through the most basic of actions. We can start by reporting these offences when they arise and making a concerted effort to change attitudes towards these offences. Just because someone makes a mistake to allow one of these crimes to be committed, that doesn’t make the actions of the malicious actor any less criminal.”

Hall concluded: “If the relevant authorities are not even being told about these offences when they arise, they stand no chance of making real progress against the growing criminal activities in cyber space. In that scenario, many criminals will go unpunished. This in turn creates greater risks for individuals and businesses alike and keeps much of the onus on individuals and businesses to tackle cyber crimes at their own cost.”