Cyber crime: ‘We’re all targets’

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Cyber crime has more than trebled in West Yorkshire in the past two years, the YEP can reveal, as West Yorkshire’s Chief Constable warns “we are all targets” if we use the internet.

New figures, uncovered in a YEP investigation, show that since 2014/15, reports of cyber crime have risen from 979 to 2,988, with the biggest spike being in the year to March 2016.

The 205 per cent rise comes as the force reveals children as young as 12 are being sucked into serious internet crime, often through online gaming.

And now, the woman in charge of West Yorkshire Police (WYP) has warned that cyber crime is “one of the most significant threats facing us today”.

Chief Constable Dee Collins said: “Victims range from the young to the old, from the individual to small and medium enterprises up to the multinational business – if we use the internet, we are all potential targets. The threat ranges from the relatively simple to the hugely complex, from bullying by an individual to hacking and ransomware demands which aim is to blackmail companies out of vast sums of money.

“What it is crucial to remember is that behind each cyber crime lies a real victim and quite often, those victims are among the most vulnerable in society. The impact of online crime can be devastating.”

Nationwide, a major investigation by the YEP and its sister titles has found, the country is experience a “tidal wave” of cyber crime with an 86 per cent rise in the number of crimes being reported to police in the past year alone.

DCI Vanessa Smith, head of the West Yorkshire cyber crime unit, said there have been cases of children getting involved in online crime from the age of 12.

“They do it for the challenge,” she said. “They don’t see it as a crime.”

In West Yorkshire, there was a fall of 12.5 per cent in cyber crimes reported in 2016/17. That came after reports rocketed by an astonishing 249 per cent the year before.

DCI Smith said there have been a number of initiatives in recent months that may have contributed to the recent reduction. But, she added, it is still massively under-reported.

“Nationally, more crime is now happening online that off-line,” she said. “That is reflected across the region.

“Cyber crime is massively under-reported,” she said. “There’s a multitude of reasons why people don’t report it. We’ve got the vulnerable, particularly the elderly, who may not report it because they feel embarrassed, as they would do with someone coming to their door trying to dupe them out of money.

“We’re trying to get more people to come forward. It’s a double edged sword - we know that may be concerning to the public.

“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. There will always be a minority of people wanting to use it for harm. We are adapting to this.”

The most common crimes reported nationwide which were in part carried out with the help of the internet were harassment and stalking, obscene publications and child sexual offences, and blackmail.

In West Yorkshire, a force area which saw a 22 per cent rise in cyber crime budgets last year, police say they have been taking a “proactive approach”.

“There’s a long way to go but we are very much a progressive force,” said DCI Smith, who detailed a number of awareness campaigns with schools, experts, businesses and charities.

“We have seen an overall increase in the past few years. Four out of five adults now have a smart phone in the UK and have access the internet. This provides opportunities for criminals to exploit the information people put online.”