The volume of fraud has grown exponentially in the last 10-15 years and is the most pervasive crime in the UK. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates there were 4.5 million fraud offences in 2021-22, and businesses also report endemic levels of fraud or attempted fraud. The availability and integration of online technology into our everyday lives has played a key role, creating new and abundant opportunities to perpetrate fraud. The police estimated that in 2020-21, 80 per cent of fraud reported by the public is in some way facilitated by online technology.
Online fraud is highly diverse in terms of the social, commercial, and financial settings in which it occurs, the methods employed by offenders and the victims who are targeted. It involves harms, vulnerabilities and investigations that are rooted in online spaces, and offending that seamlessly crosses geographic borders. In this way it confounds our existing institutions and systems for controlling crime and maintaining order. The police have struggled to adapt structures, systems, and capabilities to this new offending landscape. Moreover, responsibilities for tackling online fraud are widely dispersed across an eclectic mix of services, regulators, and other guardians in the public, private and third sector.
There is a need to develop more research-based evidence to help improve our understanding of these crimes and inform policymaking in the future. The Police Foundation, in partnership with Crest Advisory and Birkbeck University, is undertaking an ambitious programme of research aimed to:
- Further our understanding of the online fraud problem, specifically the nature of the demand on all areas of public service, including law enforcement, victim care and public protection.
- Explore the challenges and opportunities for developing crime controls and effective public services across policing and the wider public, private and third sectors.
This research programme will be focused to addressing multiple key themes that each take a different perspective on these issues:
- Online fraud typologies – methods for organising our knowledge and data on online fraud, with a particular focus on ways to meaningfully look at online fraud as a demand for public services.
- The impact of online fraud – the scale and distribution of victimisation, the experiences and needs of different victims/victim groups, and wider perspectives among the general public on the risks of online fraud.
- Offender typologies – patterns in online fraud offending perpetrated from within the UK, with a focus on who the offenders are, their pathways into offending and the different methods and criminal opportunities exploited to perpetrate online fraud.
- The policy and practice landscape – a comprehensive review of organisations and sectors with a role in tackling online fraud from the local to national level, and across all areas of response, including law enforcement, victim services, public protection, and crime prevention.
- Online anonymity and the risks of fraud – the role of online anonymity in facilitating online fraud, technological and policy-oriented solutions, and wider considerations on balancing the demands for security while upholding civil liberties and data security.
- Future trends in online fraud – scanning the horizon to project how online fraud will evolve and take shape in the near to medium future and the potential implications for public policy.
We will use a variety of methodologies to address these different themes including interviews, focus groups and surveys involving victims or other members of the public, interviews with key stakeholders and experts, and analyses of police investigation case files and recorded crime data.
A separate report will be published for each of the research topics listed above, before publishing a final paper to review the overarching policy implications of the findings from this programme of research.