Multi-billion problem of online fraud being ‘overlooked’

online fraud

The National Audit Office takes the Government, police forces and banks to task over their response to the growing threat.

Ministers are not doing enough to tackle online fraud and must respond urgently to the growing problem, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

The watchdog said it was hard to see how the current response to issue – now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales – could be seen as “proportionate, efficient or effective”, Sky reports.

It also said some police forces were not treating the issue as a priority while some banks were doing better than others in their response.

There was also concern about the level of sentence received by convicted fraudsters and whether current legislation was enough.

Almost two million cyber-related fraud incidents were estimated to have taken place in a year and the cost was likely to run into billions of pounds.

The report came as separate figures from Citizens Advice showed a 17 per cent rise in consumers being caught out buying “phantom” goods online – spending an average £1,000 on products such as cars or flights that turned out not to exist.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “For too long, as a low value but high volume crime, online fraud has been overlooked by Government, law enforcement and industry.

“It is now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales and demands an urgent response.

“At this stage it is hard to judge that the response to online fraud is proportionate, efficient or effective.”

He said the Home Office, while not solely responsible for reducing and preventing online fraud, was the only body that could “oversee the system and lead change”.

Figures released in the report showed there were an estimated 1.9 million cyber-related fraud incidents in the year to the end of last September – 16 per cent of all estimated crime incidents.

At least 6% of adults experienced such a crime while in 39 per cent of cases where money was taken or stolen from a victim, the loss was more than £250.

The total cost of all forms of fraud in 2016 was £10bn to individuals and £144bn to the private sector as a whole.

Meanwhile, one in six police officers had neighbourhood policing as their main function last year, compared to just one in 150 focused on economic crime.

The NAO said the Joint Fraud Taskforce led by the Home Office was a positive step but that without accurate data it did not know whether its response was adequate.

It found a lack of sharing of information between the Government, industry and law enforcement, giving the example that there was no formal requirement for banks to report fraud or share reports.

The NAO also said the growing scale of online fraud suggested many people were still unaware of the risks and that different organisations running different campaigns with slightly different messages could lead to confusion.

Meanwhile, some banks were investing more than others in educating customers and improving anti-fraud technology.

The Home Office said the Government was acting to tackle online fraud but acknowledged more needed to be done.