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UK loses £1.3bn to fraud and cyber crime so far this year

New figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show a threefold spike in reported financial losses to fraud and cyber crime in the first six months of 2021

Individuals and organisations in the UK reported losses of £1.3bn to fraud and cyber crime between 1 January and 31 July 2021, a threefold increase on the year-ago figure of £414.7m, as reported instances of cyber crime spike by seven times, rising from 39,160 to 289,437.

This is according to newly published data collated by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which has just been made available. The data reveals major spikes in reported instances of such crimes between January and March 2021, at the height of the UK’s second major pandemic lockdown, with more than 137,000 crimes resulting in losses of £625.6m reported during the first quarter.

Regionally, the biggest losses were seen in London, the South East and Eastern England, with over £629m lost to Londoners alone, £236.2m in the South East and £233.3m in Eastern England.

This compares with losses of just £47.6m across Scotland, £45.9m in Tarian – the Regional Organised Crime Unit covering the Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and South Wales Police forces, and £24.5m in Northern Ireland.

Smaller figures still were recorded in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, although these regions should be considered outliers in the data because of their much smaller comparative populations.

Broken out in a little more depth, the biggest losses to cyber crime specifically were reported in Tarian (Wales), followed by London and South West England, while the East Midlands, North East England and Scotland recorded the lowest amounts, followed again by the three Crown dependencies.

Christos Betsios, cyber operations officer at Obrela Security Industries, said the data highlighted the extent to which cyber crime appeared to be getting out of control – particularly since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the results of which can now be clearly seen in the figures.

“The fact that the financial losses have increased by three times in just the last year is very worrying and the bad news is that things are only going to get worse,” said Betsios.

“The UK government must take urgent action and take more steps in educating the public on cyber crime and the techniques criminals use, particularly around text scams, which are said to be the fastest rising and most commonly used technique in the country today.

“People must be reminded not to click on links in emails unless they know for sure they are genuine, not to transfer money to someone they don’t know and to avoid opening email attachments unless they can verify they are not malicious.”

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Talion chief operations officer Keven Knight said: “While everyone thought 2020 was the year cyber crime really started to get out of control, it was clearly just a warm-up. These figures are very alarming and highlight that cyber crime is growing at a much faster rate than we could ever have anticipated and consumers and businesses across the UK are losing millions at the hands of the threat.

“The data highlights an urgent need for better education and awareness across the public and private sector around the techniques cyber criminals use and how to avoid falling victim to attacks. Otherwise, we will soon be calling 2021 a warm-up year as well.” 

Separately, data reported by Experian today has revealed that bank account fraud specifically has reached its highest level for over three years. The fraud rate for current accounts rose by 13% in Q2 compared with Q1, and by 24% compared with the same period in 2020. Confirmed fraudulent openings for savings accounts in Q2 were up five times year on year, and loan fraud rates rose by 63% on the same basis.

Experian’s Eduardo Castro, head of identity and fraud for the UK and Ireland, said the rise in fraud could partly be attributed to better reporting and the use of new technologies, such as machine learning, to detect fraud.

“New technologies are helping firms to flag potentially fraudulent activity right at the beginning of the application and account opening process,” he said. “Meanwhile, customers are becoming increasingly comfortable using sophisticated security methods such as physical biometrics and facial recognition, and pin codes sent to mobile devices to verify their identity.

“Businesses that can deploy these means of verification will feel the benefit of both assuring their customers that they take security seriously and knowing that who they are dealing with is who they say they are.”

Castro added that both consumers and businesses need to be made better aware of the threat that scams and fraud pose, and that organisations should be making fraud prevention a priority.

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