A huge rise in the number of cyber crimes being reported may only be the “tip of the iceberg”, experts have warned, amid fears that the true picture may never be uncovered.
Nationwide, as little as two per cent of cyber crimes are being reported to police, an investigation by the YEP and its sister titles has found, with West Yorkshire’s head of cyber crime saying it is still “massively under-reported” in the region. While significant steps are being taken to combat criminals, one of the key issues is in victims coming forward in the first place.
Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, head of crime at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau which sits alongside Action Fraud within the City of London Police, said: “We don’t see anything like a fraction of the cyber crimes that are actually committed.
“What we see are reports to law enforcement and are very conscious that what people choose to report and what actually occurs can be vastly different - and that is very true of cyber crime.”
Often, he said, businesses were worried about their reputation in admitting they had been targeted.
“In the last three years, policing has really upped its game in its capability and responsiveness to cyber attacks,” he said. “We appeal to organisations to report cyber crimes to us as there is a real value to having that intelligence and understanding the threats being experienced.
“With big businesses, when they suffer a cyber attack, it is not just them who are affected but there are likely to be data breaches of their system and potentially there can be several million people affected.”
The YEP, all through this week, has focused on the stories of individuals who have been targeted. An elderly woman, scammed of her life savings, and a young girl, victim of a cyber stalker.
For the first time, we revealed in detail the volume of attacks public bodies in our area are subjected to every day, from councils to hospitals and universities. We’ve spoken to the ‘ethical hackers’ whose job it is to keep our data safe, to the charities working behind the scenes, and to the university teams training police in the latest online technologies.
We’ve uncovered the sheer scale of information available about individuals from Leeds online, with the data of nearly 200,000 people available for sale on the dark web.
And we’ve revealed the rise in the number of crimes being reported to West Yorkshire Police - with a 205 per cent increase in the past three years.
“When the internet was created, we had a new kind of crime,” said Detective Chief Inspector Vanessa Smith, head of West Yorkshire Police’s Cyber Crime Unit. “Now we’ve got computers, criminals are taking advantage of the fact the internet can be used to commit crime. It’s more prevalent because more people have got devices. Around £42.7bn was spent online in the UK last year, and the Home Office confirms more crime is happening online than offline.
“There is still a lot of ignorance. We are doing our bit. All forces, including West Yorkshire, have raised the bar.”
In Leeds and West Yorkshire, she said, internet users were in the main aged between 18 and 40. They were equally at risk as the elderly or children.
“An elderly person can be duped by someone coming to their door and charging them a fortune for work,” she said. “On the internet - send them an email and say they’ve won a prize or there’s a problem with their computer. It does happen.
“There’s a multitude of reasons why people don’t report it. We’re doing our best to get the message out. A consequence will be more people wishing to report crimes.”