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Cyber fraud

Stop and search in the age of fraud

New crime data remind us that fraud is bigger than knife and drug-related crime ever was… not that you would know it from media coverage, argues Eugene K

Serious violence is on the rise again. According to an analysis of activity from 74 emergency units in England and Wales in 2021, Cardiff University’s Violence Research Group found an estimated 146,856 people attended A&E for treatment of violence-related injuries, 23% more than the previous year.

One of the report’s authors – professor Jonathan Shepherd – attributes this to the easing of pandemic-induced lockdown restrictions from the end of March 2021.

And the findings tally with the Office for National Statistics’s latest crime data, which shows that police-recorded violence increased 13% (to 2,017,307 offences) in the year ending December 2021, compared with the previous (from 1,780,556 offences).

The data ought to put paid to the notion that any decreases in violent offences during this term of government are down to its crime-fighting policies, no matter what the prime minister claims.

Anyone who actually observed the lockdown rules knows what really happened. Put simply: COVID-19 triggered a series of lockdowns nationwide, which forced everyone inside their homes, and recorded crime fell as a direct consequence. Whenever they were lifted, and people went outside again, recorded crime began to rise again. And so we find ourselves in 2022 with crime at more-or-less pre-2020 levels.

You might wonder where the police fit in this narrative, how much they influenced the falls in crime. And your guess would be as good as mine, because the obvious answer seems to be not at all.

So what are they good for? Defrauding us into thinking that stop and search remains a valuable tool despite having no bearing on crime levels?

Well, speaking of fraudulent activity, the ONS release contains Telephone Crime Survey data which indicate minor changes in the volume of annual violence, homicide and knife offences, all targets of the hallowed stop and search tactic, and all swamped by the deluge of fraud and computer misuse incidents that happen in England and Wales every year. Today, we are far more likely to be victims of fraud and cyber crime than any other type of offence.

Overview of main crime types

But far from having their hands full with such cases, the police solve just one in every 1,000.

How many fraud crimes are solved?

Even before the pandemic hit, the proportion of fraud cases solved made the find rates from section 60 stops look almost respectable.

But while police chiefs and ministers insist that they are tackling the crimes that matter, that knife crime and low level cannabis are the real menaces on our streets, the official figures expose a frightening truth: every day, tens of thousands of people fall victim to frauds and scams without even having to leave their front doors.

I don't mean to alarm you, but as you read this, there is every chance someone is trying to hack your computer in order to steal your bank details, and you would never know until it is too late.

So, if the attempt to defraud you is successful, would you call the police, knowing the likelihood of them solving your case? Statistics suggest most people would rather seek reimbursement from their bank for their loss: ‘Among reasons why victims did not report fraud incidents to Action Fraud or the police, the most common was that the incident was reported to financial authorities (40%)’.

The most common reason for not reporting fraud incidents to Action Fraud or the police was reporting to financial authorities instead

Perhaps this is because so many people already know that the police deem fraud as a low priority, compared with the task of pilfering small amounts of cannabis off young Black people, or worse still profiling young Black people based off racist stereotypes, or worse still sexually assaulting young Black people to 'strengthen community relations in the fight against County Lines criminal activity' [read: as a sick power move].

This filters through to portrayals of crime in mainstream discourse. Although fraud happens 10 times more often than incidents involving knife / sharp instruments, you would be oblivious to this fact from watching or reading legacy media. An accurate representation of society’s misdemeanours would see more than half of every episode of Crimewatch focusing on busts of fraud kingpins and appeals to catch malicious computer code. News anchors would decry an epidemic of Silent Thefts, politicians would denounce scam artists as Financial Terrorists, and radio pundits would be holding call-ins demanding solutions to the phenomenon of the Ransomware Robber.

Problem is, it's not sexy, it's not gory, and doesn't involve enough of a marginalised group (by ethnicity, sex, or wealth) for the police to want to get involved, and it’s too banal, too much of an everyday occurrence for the media to take any interest.

The utter failure to police it doesn't make it any less of a scandal though.


By Eugene K

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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