Criminology professor sheds light on how UK lockdown could change crime levels
Online fraud, domestic violence and child abuse are all crimes which may see an increase during the coronavirus pandemic, a Yorkshire criminology expert has said.
Professor Graham Farrell says that the current climate of social distancing and heightened anxiety may present "new opportunities" for some criminals.
Despite this, police may see a drop in some forms of crime such as shop-lifting and burglaries, as well as the interruption of drug supply chains, said the academic who studies patterns in offenders' behaviour and trends in certain incidents.
Prof Farrell, who is an expert in crime science at the University of Leeds and advises police on criminal prevention strategies, told The Yorkshire Post that the public should be extra vigilant to fraud during the lockdown.
More people staying at home, using the internet, and possibly facing financial problems due to jobs losses and employees being placed on furlough, mean that the public are more vulnerable to financial fraud, he said.
"With more people indoors, fraudsters are going to jump on this," Prof Farrell said.
"People are spending more time online now as well. There will be some existing fraudsters which have been facilitated in some way by the pandemic. For example, financial fraud in the forms of phishing emails and cold-calling.
"What we have got now is a conversation starter - there are more reasons to justify calling somebody where there weren't before. Criminals will look for opportunities where they can open a dialogue.
"There will, I imagine, be more criminals pretending to be banks now there are changes to a lot of people's financial circumstances.
"What we also have to remember is that normally when legislation is changed, it has to be crime-proofed, which means analysed for ways that legislation could be exploited by criminals. But that hasn't happened because everything has been fast-tracked.
"With more people being placed on furlough, then criminals will try to exploit that and use fraudulent methods to claim the money you are owed from the Government. That is a very strong possibility if we have not had time to look at all those loopholes."
A report published by the EU's law enforcement agency Europol last week claimed that the number of cyber-related crimes against both companies and individuals during the Covid-19 pandemic was expected to rise.
Prof Farrell added that the current Government restrictions meant that domestic crimes such as abuse of partners and children could see an increase.
"If the level of domestic violence reflects the opportunities available, then just that massive increase in people being at home is going to increase the level of incidents," he said.
"Victims have got less chance to escape or to go and stay with someone else. We have also seen an increase in alcohol sales with people not being able to go to the pub, which could be a facilitator for criminals.
"Child abuse, both physical and sexual, is probably going to rise."
Yorkshire's four police forces last week all issued guidance for victims of domestic violence, with one Assistant Chief Constable vowing that abusers would not be able to "hide behind the lockdown".
Despite the predictions, which Prof Farrell said were based on known patterns of criminal behaviour, he said some crimes may actually see a drop.
"There will be some good news and bad news," he continued.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a fall in shoplifting with many shops now closed. Theft generally, and burglaries, will decline because there are more people in their houses and more surveillance from neighbours. This varies depending on where you live, obviously, but generally-speaking, people who are out and about on the streets looking to commit a crime will be more conspicuous now we are all indoors more."
"We can expect that drug supply chains will also be disrupted," said the professor.
"Supply lines from countries such as Columbia and Afghanistan, where (cocaine and heroin) are imported from, may be interrupted.
"There is not as much trade happening right now, and normally drugs criminals rely on there being so much trade movement as not everything that is imported into the country can be checked."