Scam websites: Target for new £4.3m cybercrime-fighting plan

But anti-computer fraud drive is "half-hearted" say Tories

But anti-computer fraud drive is "half-hearted" say Tories

The government has added fresh resources to the fight against cybercrime with the launch of a £4.3m programme to help combat fraud, estimated to cost UK consumers £3.5bn per year.

The programme, which aims to take down scam websites, was launched by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills this week.

Under the scheme, up to 300 of the UK's approximately 3,000 existing trading standards officers will receive "intermediate" level training in tackling cybercrime.

In addition, a new cyber enforcement team within the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) will be set up. The team will lead investigations into websites selling fake or non-existent goods, tickets or services online, and will have an attached digital forensics lab that will be available to all OFT staff.

Cybercrime

The £4.3m of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funding will pay for new officials to investigate and shut down scam websites
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

A spokesman for the OFT said the new capability will prevent fraud of a far higher value than the cost of setting up the team and lab.

"We look to save consumers five times what we spend on an investigation and that will apply to this new team as well," he said.

According to consumer minister Kevin Brennan, the funding pledge is a sizeable commitment in the fight against cybercrime.

However, shadow home office minister James Brokenshire questioned whether the government is providing enough funding to tackle cybercrime, with the OFT estimating that about three million UK consumers lose a total of £3.5bn to online fraud each year.

"Online crime has been growing at an alarming rate yet the government still doesn't recognise its impact," he said.

"Labour's approach has been half-hearted as more people fall victim to scams each day.

"We need a clear strategy to combat computer crime and protect this country against the threat of cyber attack."

Meanwhile funding for another group dedicated to tackling cybercrime in the UK, the Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), whose remit is to lead investigations into the UK's most serious e-crime incidents and to help train local police forces to tackle cybercrime, runs out in March next year.

How responsibilities will be split between the new OFT unit and the UK's various existing cybercrime-fighting bodies - such as the PCeU, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and the Action Fraud reporting hotline and website - is still being decided.

A spokesman for the PCeU said: "We will work with the Office of Fair Trading, trading standards, and other partners, to ensure clear lines of intelligence sharing and operational activity are agreed and that the PCeU previous learning and engagement is shared."

John Peerless, project manager for the trading standards regional fraud unit in the south east of England, said he believed there will not be any overlap or confusion between the responsibilities of anti-cybercrime bodies, saying that the OFT, PCeU and trading standards officers will focus on different aspects of online fraud.

He added that PCeU will continue investigating serious national frauds, such as its operation to shut down more than 100 websites illegally selling tickets to Premier League and Football Association games last year.

The OFT, he said, will be focused on "sector-wide" online scams, such as websites offering fake learning courses and degrees in return for payment. Meanwhile trading standards officers will concentrate on individual instances of people being ripped off by online traders, and on advising consumers on how to spot scam websites and retailers on how to comply with online regulations, such as those governing distance selling.

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