UK Police to Track E-crime, Fraud Down to the Last Pence

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The fight against e-crime in many countries has been the equivalent of pushing the tide with a broom.

Senior U.K. police officials acknowledge that law enforcement has a long way to go in being able to more effectively deal with cybercriminals and fraudsters, who steal to the tune of £14 billion (US$20 billion) annually in the U.K.

Until another seasoned e-crime official explained some e-crime terminology "I thought a botnet and Storm worm were Dr. Who characters, and denial of service was some kind of industrial action," said Mike Bowron, commissioner of the City of London police, who gave a presentation at the E-Crime Congress in London on Wednesday.

But the U.K. is embarking on a plan to develop a reporting system, the National Fraud Reporting Center, by later this year that will comprehensively track all forms of e-crime and fraud. Citizens and businesses will be able to call in and report non-urgent fraud through a dedicated Web site, Bowron said.

The reporting center is a component of the National Fraud Strategy, a three-year plan that the government launched last week. It was developed by the National Fraud Strategic Authority, part of the Attorney General's office.

The data collected by the center will be used by agencies such as the Financial Services Authority, the Serious Fraud Office, the tax authority HMRC and others to spot trends, Bowron said.

"This will ensure that every fraud -- we are talking in millions here -- will contribute to build a more accurate picture of fraud," Bowron said. "All reports of fraud will be captured, regardless if someone has lost £5 to a online auction house."

The fight against fraud up to this point "has been policing science fiction." The data will allow investigators to do high-level analysis to pinpoint small gangs that are perpetrating e-crime internationally.

The project, however, is complex, and is fraught with cultural, political and legal problems rather than technical difficulties, Bowron said. "We're working hard to get this right from the outset."

Other efforts have already started. Bowron's City of London police was designated as the National Lead Police Force for Fraud in April 2008, in charge of fraud cases across the U.K. In the last 12 months, 50 new investigators have been trained and taken on 70 cases that wouldn't normally have been touched but amount to some £1 billion in fraud, Bowron said.

Other initiatives of the National Fraud Strategy include giving new powers to U.K. courts. Measures include making a wider range of fraud victims eligible for compensation and giving courts new power to preserve and recover assets gained through fraud in order to pay compensation orders.

The U.K. also recently launched the Police Central e-Crime Unit, which will received about £7 million in funding over the next three years from the Home Office and Metropolitan Police.

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