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The UK scale of cybercrime

Cybercrime is not limited to activities of unknown people gaining access to details of a bank account, etc. Indeed, many examples will involve people we know and work colleagues. Like charity, cybercrime can begin at home. Many industries, town councils, or charities will have large amounts of money flowing through their system, and this money is handled by a wide range of employees. Access to such financial dealings is rarely tightly limited, especially in large organizations, so ‘standard’ cybercrimes include invention of fictitious employees who are paid salaries; double salary payments to employees using more than one address and bank account; or purchase of non-existent goods and services. Many of the same criminal problems already existed in paper- based accounting, but the electronic versions are far simpler to generate and often less traceable to the perpetrator.

Major companies will have many hundreds of employees who will know how to make relevant cash transfer details and passwords. Some will be careless, and others may accidentally contribute to the crime. Similarly, in competitive industries, the theft of knowledge and production information or marketing strategies, etc. will all provide profit to those who can extract the data from their competitors. These thefts of information (not money) are crimes that are hard to pinpoint, and unlikely to be prosecuted. The scale is worrying as it is growing.

A 2013 government report estimated that the UK economy was annually losing (at the very least!) some ?27 billion to such crimes. Their breakdown spread the pain as follows: ?21 billion to business, ?2.2 billion to government, and ?3.1 billion to private individuals. If GCHQ is correct, then there is a potential for an enormous improvement. The numbers clearly show why it is attracting not just the standard criminal, but a totally new class of thief who feels secure and untouchable in such actions. In some ways, the crime is committed because the thief may never see the victim and therefore has no remorse.

These sums are in fact paltry compared with the money hidden in tax havens. Estimates vary on how much is not being used to pay taxes to home countries, but 2013 numbers suggest that at least ?100 billion was lost in tax revenue, and globally towards ?5 trillion was stored in tax havens in foreign countries. The sum may exceed the total national debts of nations across the world. These sums are so immense, and doing nothing to reduce poverty or improve the life of most of the world’s population, that in my view the very existence of such tax havens is unquestionably criminal. I am sure I am not alone in also saying that the various governments around the world who lack the integrity, courage, or ability to tackle this issue are equally guilty. In my context of technologically or electronically aided crime, such tax evasion is definitely a leading candidate. They are in fact very obvious, as many of the ‘banks’ for the deposits may not even exist in the form of a building, but are purely electronic sites.

One often-cited example is the Cayman Islands, where there are nearly 400 registered banks, but only around two dozen carry on business with residents and non-residents of the islands. For a population of less than 60,000 in this 100-square-mile island group, the density of banks is excessive.

I am surprised that there are no effective ‘Robin Hood’—type hackers targeting this immense wealth and redistributing it to poorer nations or worthwhile causes.

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