Police struggling to cope with rise of cyber-crime

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The Independent Online

Police cannot cope with the huge rise in cyber-crime, such as computer viruses, fraud and the online grooming of children, Scotland Yard has admitted. And the scale of the problem has become so large that not all allegations can be investigated.

Chief constables are lobbying for funding to set up a national "e-crime" squad to help deal with the growing number of offences, which are costing individuals and the country millions of pounds. The cost of identity theft to the UK economy alone is £1.7bn a year.

A report on e-crime by the Metropolitan Police, which deals with the majority of e-crime in the UK, says: "It is widely recognised that e-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of criminality, encompassing both new criminal offences in relation to computers (viruses and hacking etc.) and 'old' crimes (fraud, harassment etc.), committed using digital or computer technology. The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] assessment is that specialist e-crime units can no longer cope with all e-crime."

The report highlights a number of cases:

* A covert operation in which an investigator posing online as a young girl attracted 475 people keen to meet and have sex with her.

* An man who sent an "e-mail bomb" containing about five million e-mails to his former employer, causing the company's e-mail server to collapse.

* Three men were arrested for allegedly being members of a virus-writing organised crime group. A 63-year-old man in Ipswich, a 28-year-old in Scotland, and a 19-year-old in Helsinki were arrested after a global attack on computers that would have allowed them to steal personal information.

The report, written by Detective inspector Charlie McMurdie, of the Metropolitan Police computer crime unit, concludes: "The ability of law enforcement to investigate all types of e-crime locally and globally must be 'mainstreamed' as an integral part of every investigation, whether it be specialist, or murder, robbery, extortion demands, identity theft or fraud.

"Hackers and virus writers have evolved from largely enthusiastic amateur 'criminals' to financially motivated, organised global criminal enterprises. Prosecutions of virus writers and hackers in the UK have been infrequent up to now. However, the motivation of such offenders has now migrated from the curious adolescent to the profile of the financially motivated professional, often with organised crime links."

The Association of Chief Police Officers is currently discussing the setting up of a new national e-crime unit.