Adrian Leppard, the Commissioner of the City of London Police, says at least a quarter of organised criminals in Britain are now involved in online fraud
12:01AM GMT 01 Mar 2015
International gangsters are increasingly abandoning drug dealing and other high risk rackets in favour of cybercrime, putting everyone who uses the Internet at risk, one of the country’s most senior police officers has warned.
Up to a quarter of all organised criminals in Britain are now thought to be involved in some form of financial crime, netting them tens of billions of pounds in profit every year.
But with the majority of online fraud being committed by overseas gangs and victims often unwilling to report offences, law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to even assess the scale of the problem.
Adrian Leppard, the Commissioner of the City of London Police, which takes a lead in fighting fraud and cybercrime, said while traditional crimes were continuing to fall, financial offences were soaring.
Adrian Leppard, Commissioner of the City of London Police
And he warned that many people who use the Internet every day to shop or do their banking, were doing the online equivalent of leaving their homes and vehicles unlocked for burglars to exploit.
“If you ask a room full of people who has been a victim of some sort of fraud or financial crime, half of them will put their hand up. You would have difficulty finding any other area of crime with similar statistics,” he explained.
“But we estimate that as much as 80 per cent of this sort of crime is not reported, so while we know there is a big problem, we can’t put a scale on it and that is one of our biggest challenges,” he added.
Mr Leppard said cybercrime appealed to organised criminals because it was a “low-risk, high yield” offence.
He said: “Organised crime is motivated by money. Whichever criminal activity delivers the most money that is where they will go
“We estimate that around 25 per cent of the organised crime groups in this country are now involved in financial crime in one shape or another, but that intelligence only relates to this country. We can’t tell what the picture is internationally.”
Mr Leppard said: “There could be hundreds of billions of pounds washing around the world as a result of fraud and cybercrime and I do wonder when it is going to become more profitable for the criminals than drugs.”
He acknowledged that the problem required a different approach by police, but said in the face of swingeing cuts, the public and business had to play a bigger role in protecting themselves.
He said: “It is very difficult to attack this in a traditional way, to gather intelligence, identify the core problem and then address it through enforcement and prosecution.
“When many of the offenders are abroad and they are using the Internet, which is unregulated, it is very difficult to see how a traditional enforcement approach will solve the problem.
“Even if we had ten times the number of police officers I am not sure that would necessarily address the problem, because internationally we cannot reach the people.
“There are so many countries, there is no jurisdiction, no extradition, so we have to turn this into a prevention mission so that every member of the public and every business that uses the Internet knows what they need to do to protect themselves.
“Acquisitive crime has absolutely gone down in this country, so while the issue used to be ‘how can I protect my car radio?’, or ‘which locks to I need to fit to keep my home safe?’, we now also need a new mindset about ‘how do I protect my home computer or business network?’”
While he praised the Government for the steps it had taken so far he urged ministers to drive forward a recognised standard for software security that computer companies would compete to attain.
He said: “This is not going to be a quick fix. This is going to take a number of years and require a huge financial commitment, but this crime is not going away. The problem is getting bigger and the criminals are getting more sophisticated so we need to move with that.”