Fraudsters are abandoning 'industrial-scale fraud' to target individuals and small businesses, who have been left them open to attacks by working from home.
Think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said that the pandemic had opened up a market in "silent stealing" for criminals, who exploit weaknesses in home security systems to steal small amounts of money from large numbers of people.
Rather than trying to execute one high-value heist, many fraudsters find it easier to go undetected by casting their nets wide and stealing smaller quantities many times over.
Yes, trying to steal £10m from a bank is an option, but stealing £10 a hundred thousand times is going to give you a good return and probably go below the radar, Are you going to call Action Fraud or your bank in the case where you lose £10?Said the authors
According to the think-tank, fraud is 'near endemic' in Britain, with people more likely to become victims of fraud than of any other crime.
Senior Partner at Gadhia Consultants and former National Coordinator for Policing Economic Crime, Commander Stephen Head, contributed to the report and said the events of the last year had left many more people vulnerable to attack:
The current coronavirus pandemic has caused many businesses to accelerate their digital strategies and move online more quickly than anticipated, and it has been alarming to see how quickly cyber fraudsters have responded to these changes and sought to take advantage of the global emergency for their own ends.
According to the Office of National Statistics, over half of all fraud in the UK relies on the internet.
City of London Police's former head of economic crime, Karen Baxter, puts the number much higher - claiming some 84% of fraud occurs online.
Wherever the figure lies, experts agree that the pandemic has places people in a riskier position- with over half of financial and law enforcement officials polled by the think-tanks saying that working from home had made people significantly more vulnerable to cyber attacks than when working from an office.
As the pandemic has forced the majority of Britain's employees to work from home, fraudsters have been quick to exploit the generally weaker security of home WiFi networks, which leave devices open to cyber-attacks and socially engineered ploys force or trick people into handing over their details.
After obtaining personal information, fraudsters set about moving funds into accounts they control, from which the money can be withdrawn and laundered.
The UK is due to review its National Cyber Security Strategy later this year to address what RUSI termed a 'vacuum at the policy level', letting criminals slip through the net.
The think-tank called for better communication and collaboration between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies to protect potential victims and prosecute offenders.
Overall, fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £190 billion each year and can leave victims in lasting financial and psychological distress:
The monetary loss that many victims experience can be overpowering, and it is not a foregone conclusion that victims will get a refund from their bank, particularly when 'effective warnings' are displayed at the point of payment. Nor is it the case that victims' credit ratings are unaffected; these can take many years to recover if applications under their name have been made to multiple providers.Said the authors
If you are a victim of fraud or suspect you may have been targeted, report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk
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