According to the Office for National Statistics, cases involving online fraud have seen a dramatic rise when compared with incidents of theft. In the year to March 2015, over 14,000 incidents of computer-misuse crime were recorded, compared to 4,042 reported thefts in the same period.
Instances of online fraud often take place on an international scale, rather than locally, meaning that the potential breadth of victims involved in the same scam is much greater than ever before.
Why is it difficult to detect and catch online scammers?
Prosecutions are often difficult because authorities are required to produce a large amount of supporting evidence and documentation – and often this information is difficult to find and can be quickly erased by an offender.
The very nature of the internet means that online scammers can operate out of any country, and so often choose countries with limited law enforcement resources, which may turn a blind eye to such activity , particularly when the victims are in other countries. Persuading foreign service providers to disclose email and social media data held on their servers is also often a major challenge.
To fully address the issue of online fraud, enforcement agencies for all countries would need to cooperate on a global level, and in real time. Tracking criminals on an international level is time-consuming, places strain on already thinly-spread resources and is extremely costly. Below, we outline and discuss five common types of online fraud:
1. Non-delivery of goods ordered online
This type of fraud often utilises internet auction sites, such as eBay, and involves the product listed being either non-existent or not as described. To facilitate this type of fraud, a seller will usually ask for payment via bank transfer (usually to an offshore account), as this type of payment is not safeguarded in the same way transactions over services such as PayPal are.
2. Identity theft
Assuming someone else’s identity to obtain a position of trust is a common method of online fraud. An offender will often hack a victim’s email or social media account, for example, and then proceed to request money from friends or relatives following a traumatic incident such as a mugging. Again this is difficult to track and can often take a long time to be detected by the victims, with perpetrators often shielding themselves by operating from overseas.
3. Email spam
One of the most common and, to some extent, easiest-to-spot forms of online fraud, email spamming involves the sending of unsolicited emails requesting anything from website passwords right through to bank account and other personal details. Victims of this type of fraud are often low-level or new internet users that are unaware of such scams taking place, making them more vulnerable.
4.Online dating (catfishing) scams
Another form of online scam takes the form of an offender attempting to win the trust and love of a victim over the medium of an online dating site or an internet chat room. Millions of people attempt to meet new partners every day so the potential for victims to be scammed is high. Often offenders, usually based in other countries, will spend an extensive amount of time attempting to win the trust of their victim, and eventually request money, either for flights to visit them or for other reasons. Again, this type of fraud is difficult to police because of its international nature, offenders are preying on a victim’s loneliness and foreign enforcement bodies are usually unwilling to help.
5. Untrustworthy websites
The use of clone websites, those which imitate the look and usability of a popular website, which usually requires the inputting of banking details or other sensitive information is on the increase. Although a relatively complex form of fraud, it is often very effective as the only giveaway can often be the website domain, a factor which many internet users will neglect to check when using a site they may already be familiar with. This sort of scam is often used in conjunction with an email phishing scam to generate the link for the victim to click through to.