Fraud & cybercrime

Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006 establishes a general offence of fraud, which is primarily committed through one of three acts—fraud by false representation (Section 2), fraud by failing to disclose information (Section 3) or fraud by abuse of a position (Section 4).

An individual who commits fraud through any of these methods may be liable on summary conviction, for minor fraudulent acts, up to 12 months’ imprisonment, or for the more serious instances of fraud, a custodial sentence lasting up to 10 years.

In prosecuting a defendant for an offence of fraud, the following must be proven beyond reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant’s conduct must be dishonest.
  • The defendant’s intention must be to make a gain for himself or cause a loss or the risk of loss to another.

Importantly, however, if the above is proven beyond reasonable doubt, the defendant, in order to be convicted, need not have actually gained anything for himself or caused any loss to another.

Cybercrime and fraud by false representation.

In the context of cybercrime, fraud is most frequently committed through the Section 2 offence. According to the National Crime Agency, the most common types of cybercrime include hacking, phishing and the distribution of malicious software. In many cases, the relevant form of fraud occurring in such instances is by false representation. This offence, defined in Section 2 of the 2006 Act, is committed entirely through the conduct of the defendant.

In order to secure a conviction under Section 2, the prosecution must prove that the defendant dishonestly made a false representation and, in so doing, intended to make a gain for himself or another, or to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

In reality, this offence commonly occurs through phishing, which is the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies, with the intention of obtaining sensitive personal information, such as passwords or payment card details.

The requirement only to expose another to a risk of loss contributes to the ever growing frequency of fraudulent activity taking place online, as consequently fraud is an offence commonly committed without great difficulty, particularly because an offender need not have gained anything in order to have committed the offence.

The effects

The increasing prevalence of cybercrime is evidenced in the fact that it’s total cost to the United Kingdom is estimated to be £27 billion per annum. However, realistically, the actual cost is likely to be far higher.

Consumers and the general public are affected significantly by fraud and cybercrime, but businesses are believed to lose the most, with such losses totalling around £21 billion per annum. This is largely due to thefts of intellectual property and instances of espionage across businesses spanning primarily, but not exclusively, financial, technology and computer and software services.

Exercising vigilance

Cybercrime can take many forms, but there are methods through which individuals can protect themselves from its dangers. The National Crime Agency recommends adopting a common sense approach to cyber security and safety. This entails maintaining, and not reusing, strong passwords, as well as installing security software (such as anti-virus) and ensuring that all software and operating systems are kept fully updated.

Additionally, it may be advisable to manage settings on social media platforms, in order to control and restrict the extent of the personal information retrievable from one’s social media profile, as certain details may expose the answers to one’s security questions, for example.

 

 

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