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Staying vigilant

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

I was struck by the number of people that attended the Security Event a couple of weeks ago at the NEC in Birmingham. It has only been a couple of years, after all, since the pandemic, when an event attended by thousands of people was unimaginable. It’s a sign that things are really getting back to normal.

That ‘new normal’ (remember that?!) is not like life before 2019, however. For one thing, the era of low interest rates and inflation staying below 2% is well and truly over: this week, inflation remained stubbornly high at 10.1%, while the Bank of England introduced the 12th consecutive increase in the base bank interest rate, to 4.5%. And while the UK’s economy grew slightly in the first quarter of 2023, by 0.1%, UK GDP is still 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels.

One thing that has stayed low is the crime rate in England and Wales. I was encouraged that, apart from a particular category of crime, which I will address later, these haven’t changed dramatically from the lows recorded during the pandemic, when lockdowns resulted in a corresponding fall in reported crime. The latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) for the year ending December 2022 show that, compared with the pre-coronavirus pandemic year ending March 2020, total crime decreased by 12%.

Overall theft is down 20%, with theft from the person down 44%, domestic burglary down 23%, vehicle-related theft down 21% and criminal damage decreased by 24%. Somewhat surprising to me, police recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments decreased by 9% compared with the year ending March 2020. Homicides also decreased by 11% to 632 offences compared with the year ending March 2020 but, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which reports the CSEW figures, homicide is a relatively low-volume offence so numbers can fluctuate.

Do these figures represent a ‘new normal’? Well, the ONS makes it clear that it is “too early to say whether the decreases seen in most crime types occurring during the coronavirus pandemic will come to represent a sustained change in long-term trends.”

It’s not all good news, though. One area that has seen an increase are Police recorded sexual offences, which rose by 19% to 189,731 offences compared with the pre-coronavirus pandemic year ending March 2020.

Yet while it is undoubtedly a positive move that more victims are willing to come forward and report crimes, the ONS points out that this increase may reflect “the impact of high-profile cases and campaigns on victims’ willingness to report both recent and historical incidents.” It also claims that “for a subset of forces supplying data to the Home Office Data Hub, 21% of all sexual offences in the year to December 2022 had taken place over a year prior to the incident being recorded” so, some of these may be historical crimes. Even if the numbers are not representative of ‘current crimes’ they are still too high and we certainly have work to do, especially in terms of subsequent conviction rates.

One area that really surprised me, however, is the massive increase in so-called ‘advance fee fraud’, which increased a staggering eight times, from 60,000 to 454,000 offences, compared with the year ending March 2020. To put this in perspective, this is a 654% increase! This crime includes scams where fraudsters trick victims into transferring funds to them, often for fictitious postal deliveries. The ONS suggests this increase may indicate fraudsters “taking advantage of behavioural changes during the coronavirus pandemic”, with an increased focused on cyber crimes.

Cybercrime is beginning to be recognised in our industry as an issue, but I don’t think fast enough. As I have written in the past, ‘people hacking’ and similar scams are often behind many of the data breaches that organisations experience, so such a high level of fraud is troubling.

As an industry our traditional focus on protecting people and property from theft and assault must adapt quicker to recognise the part that cybercrimes, fraud and social engineering play in overall risk management.

It’s why we at Reliance continue to work closely with our high-profile public sector and corporate customers, including those responsible for the critical national infrastructure we rely on, to ensure they remain safe in a changing word. And even if some areas of crime are down, as the latest CSEW figures show, it is too soon to suggest there won’t be a return to previously high rates seen before 2020. Remember, prevention is better than cure, so businesses need to continue reassessing the changing face of the risks they face; re-evaluating procedures as well as deploying appropriate technology to mitigate them.

For advice on managing your risk, please send me a message or contact info@reliancehightech.co.uk.