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Improving crime statistics in England and Wales

Developments in the coverage of fraud

Over recent years there has been growing concern that the official statistics on crime in England and Wales have not adequately captured the scale of fraud. There has been debate about whether or not levels of fraud and cyber crime experienced by the household population have been increasing, and if so have they risen to such a degree to make up for the long term falls in traditional types of crime. As shown in Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates, crime is down from 19 million at its peak in 1995 to under 7 million offences in the year ending June 2015. It has been argued that crime has not actually fallen but changed, moving to newer forms of crime not captured by the survey measurement.

There has been an increasing demand for more comprehensive statistics to build a better understanding of the nature of the problem, how it is changing and evolving. To better inform decision makers, we have been working to improve the collection and presentation of official statistics on fraud by drawing in new sources and expanding current collections. This includes improvement to the administrative data on fraud reported to the police and to the CSEW.

We are conducting work to extend the main victimisation module in the CSEW to cover fraud and elements of cyber-crime experienced by the population resident in households. New questions will be added to the survey from October 2015 and results from a field trial, based on those questions, are now available. It should be noted that these statistics are research outputs and not official statistics. Previously we calculated a crude estimate of the possible scale of plastic card and banking fraud and that adding new questions to the victimisation module would be likely to yield between 3.6 and 3.8 million additional incidents. The new questions extend beyond plastic card and banking fraud to cover a fuller spectrum of fraud and computer misuse crimes, including those committed in person, by mail, over the phone and online. They also encompass a range of harm or loss, including incidents where the victim suffered no or little loss or harm, cases where losses were reimbursed by others (such as bank or credit card company) and cases where significant harm or loss was experienced.

Initial estimates of fraud and cyber crime

To develop the new questions a large-scale field trial was carried out between May and August 2015. Preliminary results from this field trial indicate that:

  • there were an estimated 5.1 million incidents of fraud, with 3.8 million adult victims in England and Wales in the 12 months prior to interview (Table 1); just over half of these incidents involved some initial financial loss to the victim, and includes those who subsequently received compensation in part or full

  • where a loss was reported, three-quarters (78%) of the victims received some form of financial compensation, and in well over half (62%) they were reimbursed in full 

  • in addition to fraud, the field trial estimated there were 2.5 million incidents of crime falling under the Computer Misuse Act, the most common incident where the victim’s computer or other internet enabled device was infected by a virus; it also included incidents where the respondent’s email or social media accounts had been hacked

Table 1: Fraud and computer misuse – incidents and number of victims

England and Wales

Adults aged 16 and over
Offence group Number of incidents (000s): Incidence Rate per 1,000 adults: Number of victims (000s): Victim Rate per 1,000 adults:
Fraud 5,110 112 3,757 82
Fraud with loss (including  those reimbursed) 2,648 58 2,079 46
Fraud no loss 2,462 54 1,856 41
         
Computer misuse 2,460 54 2,113 46
Unauthorised access to personal information (including hacking)  404 9 404 9
Computer virus 2,057 45 1,741 38
         
Unweighted base (n= number of adults interviewed)  2,072      

Table notes:

  1. Source: Crime Survey for England and Wales Field Trial, Office for National Statistics.
  2. Field trial conducted between May and August 2015.

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How do the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) field trial estimates compare with other sources?

These estimates from the CSEW are significantly higher than those suggested by the police recorded figures. Police recorded figures have also undergone recent improvements and the latest official statistics now include fraud crimes reported by financial institutions and other public and private sector organisations to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) at City of London Police via Cifas and Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK). Previously the official statistics were restricted to offences reported to the NFIB via Action Fraud. Action Fraud are a public facing national reporting centre, in April 2013 they took full responsibility for centrally recording fraud offences that were previously recorded by the police.

The latest figures show that there were just under 600,000 fraud offences reported to the NFIB by individuals and industry, a rise of 9% compared with the previous year.

How do the new Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) fraud estimates and counts from administrative sources compare?

There are a number of reasons why the CSEW estimate is so much higher than the figures recorded by the police. The profile of cases covered by the CSEW (as illustrated in figure 1) cover the full spectrum of harm or loss. Reporting rates are likely to be lower in cases where there is low or no harm, but merely inconvenience, to the victim. In contrast, offences reported to Action Fraud are likely to represent the more serious end of the spectrum; where the scale of financial loss or emotional impact on the victim is greater and victims are more likely to report the offence.

Fraud harm pyramid – direct impact on individuals

The CSEW fraud estimates include victims of bank and payment card fraud whose losses have been fully reimbursed by the financial institution or payment card provider. In contrast the Home Office Counting Rules for recorded crime would not include such incidents unless the bank reported them separately to the NFIB, via Action Fraud, Cifas, or FFA UK. It is known that only a small fraction of such fraud is referred to the NFIB and therefore the vast majority will not appear in recorded crime figures. However, FFA UK provide us with a broader picture of the scale of bank account and plastic card fraud.

In the year ending June 2015, FFA UK reported 1.3 million fraud offences on UK-issued cards and bank accounts in the UK (including those cases referred to the NFIB by FFA UK).  The majority of these offences involve fraud where the cardholder and card are not present at the point of sale, such as use of the card online, over the phone or by mail order (known as “remote purchase fraud”). To put these figures in context, FFA UK has estimated that overall card fraud losses as a proportion of the amount spent on cards in the UK represented 6.9p per £100 in the year ending June 2015, the lowest level since 2011 and down from a peak 12.4p per £100 in 2008.

What are the implications for trends in crime?

It is important to recognise that these new data are not simply uncovering new crimes, but finding better ways of capturing existing crime that has not been measured well in the past. However, it is not possible to say whether these new figures represent an increase or decrease compared with earlier levels. We have some good information on past trends for some specific types of fraud, most notably bank and payment card fraud from both the CSEW and FFA UK. Both of these sources indicate a rise in volumes of incidents followed by subsequent falls. CSEW estimates showed steady year-on-year increases from the year ending March 2006 (when the first estimates were calculated), peaking in the year ending March 2010. This was followed by declines until the year ending March 2013, coinciding with the introduction of chip and pin technology. Since the year ending March 2013 estimates of plastic card fraud have fluctuated. This trend broadly reflects data collected by FFA UK on fraud losses on UK-issued cards between 2004 and 2014.

Improving statistics can introduce discontinuities into existing time series. For the new additions to the police recorded crime series, Cifas and FFA UK have been able to provide a limited back series. It is not possible to produce a back series for the new CSEW questions.

We will be consulting with users on how to incorporate the new estimates on fraud and cyber crime within the headline figures, including whether or not there is a demand for a consistent time series on the old basis, alongside any new headline measures.

There is further information on the field trial in the methodological report, CSEW Fraud and Cyber-crime development: Field trial (382.4 Kb Pdf) .

Categories: Crime and Justice, Crime, Crime Trends, Criminal Damage and Anti-Social Behaviour, Drug Crime, Property Crime, Victims of Crime, Violent and Sexual Crime, Police, Attitudes to Policing
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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