A Guide to Fraud
Fraud is by no means a recent occurrence, its history stretches back to 300 B.C, but with an ever-growing reliance on computers and the internet, online fraud has been an increasing concern for law-enforcement agencies and society as a whole. That said this is just one aspect, and the term ‘fraud’ is incredibly broad, covering many different types of crimes, including:
- Identity crime
- Individual fraud
- Corporate fraud
- Online fraud
- Advanced fee fraud
- Fraud against the tax and benefit system
- Intellectual property crime
There are many words used to imply fraud, such as scam, con, sham, hoax or trick, but in its most basic definition, fraud is “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”. So to put simply, trickery is often used to gain a dishonest advantage over another person.
Types of Fraud
In 2016 cybercrime was at an all-time high, making it the fastest growing area of fraud, however, the overall nature of the offence has remained unchanged since laws on fraud were set out in the First Statute of Westminster in 1275. Fraud can take place face-to-face, over the phone, in writing and online but common scams include:
- Pretending to work for well known companies.
- Persuading people to buy goods that are not for sale, don’t exist or are worthless.
- Offering a service, often of poor quality, but charge you many times the price they quoted.
- Trick people into giving them money with the promise of making you more money, such as bogus lottery wins or inheritance scams. Persuade others to invest in fake pension plans that have little or no value.
- Using another person’s personal details to carry out a crime, deceiving others to open bank accounts, or applying for loans.
The rise of online fraud
Cybercrime is defined as“criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the internet”, so it’s not purely limited to fraud. For example, cybercrime may be used as a tool to commit harassment, hate crime, drug trafficking or the distribution of child pornography. That said, there are many cybercrimes that do fall under the online fraud category, such as phishing, identity theft and advance fee scams.
According to cybersecurity firm Norton, more than 17 million British people were hit by cybercrime in the past year, whilst the most common crimes were generally low-tech, such as attempts to trick individuals into revealing their personal information through bogus emails. The National Cyber Security Centre states that the cyber threat to UK business is significant and growing, whilst the Global Economic Crime Survey 2018 confirms that boosting protection against cybercrime is high on the agenda for UK businesses. There are many different types of online fraud, and not every cybercrime falls in the fraud category, but some of the common forms include phishing, spoofing and pop-up fraud. These methods are commonly used to obtain personal information and may appear to be from a legitimate source (retail stores, banks and government agencies).
An Age UK survey found that 53% of older people (aged 65 and above) believed fraudsters have targeted them, but the warning signs are there for younger citizens too. For example, Cifas (a leading fraud prevention service) stated that there was a 30% rise in the number of identity fraud victims aged 21 and under in 2017.
Punishments do vary considerably for those who have been found guilty of committing fraud, with some crimes bringing low-level community orders and fines. That said, in the most serious cases of fraud, culprits are likely to face lengthy prison sentences. For example, large-scale confidence frauds involving the deliberate targeting of a number of victims may bring a sentence of up to 7 years if the fraud is in excess of £500,000. To decide the seriousness of any fraud offence, the court considers the defendant’s culpability, so the judge will take into account the extent to which the offence was planned, whether it was carried out over a long or short period, and the willingness of the defendant and his or her motivation in carrying out the offence among other factors.
With such an increase in fraudulent crimes, especially in the online sphere, it’s important that you do everything in your power to protect yourself. Learning about the common scams is a good place to start, and they can include lottery prizes, fake online dating profiles, card cracking, ransomware and family member imposters. You should always listen to your gut, so if something doesn’t feel right, be firm and say no. Never allow yourself to be panicked, otherwise you may make a decision you come to regret.
You should also always use strong passwords for each of your online accounts, whether that is a social network, a bank, an ecommerce store or a hotel booking website. There have also been many cases where scammers have exploited public Wi-Fi security gaps, so if you do choose to sit down in your favourite coffee shop to join their Wi-Fi, be sure to only do general browsing and never use it for shopping or banking. It’s also incredibly important to ensure you do not automatically download any attachments, so be sure to turn off this setting on your device. Phishing email scams have existed for as long as the internet has been around, but there is one way to protect yourself simply and effectively, do not provide sensitive information through a suspicious email or text message, even if the sender appears to be a reputable company or someone you know.
If you suspect fraud, it is your duty as a citizen of the UK to report it because you will help tackle this crime and prevent others from losing vast amounts of money to criminals profiting from the misfortune of others. So if you have any suspicions at all, never stay silent.
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