No evidence half of UK was victim of online crime in past year

5 July 2022
What was claimed

50% of us have been a victim of online crime over the last year.

Our verdict

We couldn’t find any evidence that this is true. ONS data shows fraud and computer misuse accounted for half of all crime in 2021, but this does not mean half the UK population suffered this kind of crime.

“50% of us [...] have been a victim of online crime over the last year.”

In an interview on the Today programme, former Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue and current Chair of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Zoë Billingham, said that “50% of us” had been victims of online crime in the past year.

Full Fact has reached out to Ms Billingham in an effort to clarify this claim, as it does not appear to be based on official crime figures.

The latest crime figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) cover the year to December 2021. The figures are “experimental statistics” collected through the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales, so are in the testing phase and not yet fully developed. 

The ONS says this survey “provides a better indication of the volume of computer misuse offences experienced by the adult population as it captures incidents that go unreported to the police”.

They show that approximately 4% of people in England and Wales were a victim of computer misuse—that is, computer viruses and unauthorised access of personal information, including hacking. Approximately 14% of survey-reported crime in England and Wales in 2021 was accounted for by this kind of crime.

It is possible that Ms Billingham was referring to a broader category of crime, including fraud. According to ONS statistics, 12% of people in England and Wales were a victim of fraud and computer misuse in 2021, with this category accounting for 54% of survey-reported crime.

The ONS also states that 53% of people who took part in the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales reported having received an email, text or social media message that may have been phishing in the month before they were asked, though this does not necessarily mean all of these people fell victim to a scam. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) defines a “victim” as “a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence.”

Full Fact was unable to find data which suggests half of the population have been victims of online crime over the past year. Action Fraud—the country’s reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime—also confirmed to Full Fact that they did not recognise the figure. 

A Daily Mail article published on 30 June contained research from NordVPN—a virtual private network (VPN) provider—which found that one in ten people in the UK had suffered “theft of money, bank credentials or financial data” over the past 12 months. We’ve contacted NordVPN for more information about how this figure was reached, however it would also appear to contradict Ms Billingham’s statement.

It is true that online crime has seen a significant increase in recent years, with crime survey data showing computer misuse offences doubled in 2021, compared to 2019. However, official figures do not suggest that as many as 50% of people were victims of online crime in the last year, as Ms Billingham claimed.

Image courtesy of rupixen

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Zoë Billingham to request a correction regarding this claim.

Ms Billingham did not respond. 

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