In its latest report focusing on cyber fraud, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament recognises that Government accepts there’s still an “enormous amount of work” to be done to fight the fraudsters, with the Committee itself urging banks to shoulder more responsibility than is the case at present.
Online fraud is now the most prevalent crime in England and Wales, impacting victims not only financially, but also causing untold distress to those affected. The cost of this form of crime is estimated at a substantial £10 billion per annum, with around two million cyber-related fraud incidents perpetrated last year alone.
However, the true extent of the problem remains unknown. Only around 20% of fraud is actually reported to the police, with the emotional impact of such crime leaving many victims somewhat reluctant to come forward.
Such crime is indiscriminate, growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. Urgent action from Government is needed, states the Public Accounts Committee, yet the Home Office’s response “has been too slow and the banks are unwilling to share information about the extent of fraud” with their customers. The Committee feels that the balance needs to be tipped in favour of the customer.
Online fraud is now too vast a problem for the Home Office to solve on its own, so it must work with a long list of other organisations including banks and retailers in order to combat the issue. That said, it remains the only body that can provide strategic national leadership.
Setting up the Joint Fraud Task Force in 2016 was a positive step, asserts the Public Accounts Committee, but there’s much work still to be done. “The Home Office and its partners on the Joint Fraud Task Force need to set clear objectives for what they plan to do, and by when, and also need to be more transparent about their activities, including putting information on the Home Office’s website.”
An inconsistent response
The response from local police to fraud is said to be “inconsistent” across England and Wales. “The police must prioritise online fraud alongside efforts to tackle other sorts of crime, but it’s vital that local forces receive all the support they need to do this, including when it comes to identifying, developing and sharing good practice.”
According to the Public Accounts Committee, banks are not doing enough to tackle online fraud and their response has not been proportionate to the scale of the problem. Banks need to take more responsibility and work together to tackle this problem head on. Banks now need to work on information sharing such that customers are offered more protection from scams.
Campaigns orchestrated to educate people and keep them safe online have so far been ineffective, supported as they have been by “insufficient funds and resources”.
According to the Committee, the Home Office must also ensure that banks are committed to developing more effective ways of tackling Card Not Present fraud and that they’re held to account for this (and also when it comes to returning money to those customers who’ve been the unfortunate victims of scams).
Virulent and unprecedented threat
Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier MP stated: “Online fraud is a virulent and unprecedented threat that has taken hold rapidly, causes untold misery and costs individuals and businesses billions of pounds each year. The Government accepts there’s an enormous amount of work needed to tackle the problem. It’s work that, in our view, must put people first. Banks in particular need to step up, take responsibility and focus sharply on protecting and informing their customers.”
Hillier continued: “Technology is clearly critical to combating cyber crime . Developing effective common defences should be a priority. Policing must also be more consistent. Government has a vital role to play in ensuring this happens. Meanwhile, the public cannot be left in the dark. Online fraud affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Young people are increasingly likely to fall victim to a crime which is perceived primarily as affecting the elderly and the vulnerable. The Government must be better at explaining the tricks employed by fraudsters to target different groups, and set out very clearly the action it’s taking to tackle them.”
Response from the City of London Police
In response to the Public Accounts Committee’s report into the growing threat of online fraud, Ian Dyson (Commissioner of the City of London Police, the national policing lead for fraud) said: “Partnerships are key to combating fraud. The Joint Fraud Task Force brings together a broad range of organisations with the necessary commitment to preventing fraud in our communities. As the national lead force for fraud, the City of London Police works with other police forces across the country to establish the necessary expertise needed to tackle and prevent fraud. There’s always more that can be done in this arena. We have a comprehensive plan to build on existing skills and knowledge and ensure police officers across the country have the tools they need to combat this crime.”