FALLING CRIMEPART II: Doing nothing in the face of the worst crime wave in British history….

…..and claiming to have cut crime by half.

This officer is in charge of all UK eCrime (part-time)

After 2000, the Party that had promised ‘a laptop on every desktop’ (Alistair Campbell again) went through three stages in relation to electronic fraud and internet crime:

1. Ignore it

2. Hide it

3. Pretend we’re doing something.

In this approach, the police were their willing accomplices. Thus, while senior officers pursued promotion by going on diversity leadership courses and vowing to stamp out homophobia (which wasn’t and isn’t a crime) eCrime grew at an alarming rate that was checked only by sporadic efforts from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and agencies outside the police force.

The latter include sites like Consumer Fraud Reporting – they are fully independent and objective, and in no way affiliated with any government agency. They act purely as an information exchange to help raise public awareness about eScams…and (as CFR hilariously puts it) ‘help to bring them to the attention of the proper enforcement authorities’.

The only snag with this was that the proper authorities weren’t (and on the whole, still aren’t) enforcing anything of any note in dealing with this massive crime wave. For example, in 2004 most UK card fraud was committed via face-to-face transactions in shops. Here again, the Government cynically suggested success by putting out releases like this one from March 2007:

‘Card fraud in the UK fell three per cent from £439.4m in 2005 to £428m last year, according to figures from payment association APACS released Wednesday.’

But this again was a scam….Online banking fraud increased from £23.2m in 2005 to £33.5m in 2006. Card-not-present fraud (which involves fraudulent purchases by phone, the internet, or via mail order) leapt 16 per cent from £183.2m in 2005 to £212.6m in 2006, almost overnight representing half of all fraudulent plastic losses.

In fact, identity theft was costing the British economy over £1.7 billion annually by 2006; it now costs consumers alone over £3.5bn a year. One could call this increase all kinds of things….but not ‘crime cut by half’.

Unable and unwilling to actually spend money and effort getting a real antidote up and running, the Home Office and the police opted instead for standard New Labour window-dressing: the ‘Get Safe Online’ project. According to this entirely ineffectual quango’s own figures, 90% of users never checked their transactions on bank or credit card statements, and around 12% of internet users fell prey to fraudsters in 2006 – a figure that equated to around 3.5 million people. What the Government didn’t do was actually tackle it: its existence was merely reported….or as the NHS primary care sector increasingly puts it these days, ‘monitored’.

The Health analogy is a reasonable one, in that once they finally caught onto the Alzheimers problem, the New Labour hierarchy in the shape of Alan Johnson instigated a study to isolate ‘hotspots’ – as if the illness might be contagious. So too did the Home Office now identify ‘hot topic’ types of eCrime….after internet users had fallen victim to them. Neither activity was of the slightest use, beyond burning taxpayer’s money.

For years, genuinely concerned police officers pressed both their seniors and the Met to set up something along the lines of Eliot Ness’s Untouchables in 1930s America. But although the first eCrime unit was set up in 2002 (in Alloa of all places) it was fully six years later before the PCeU was created to tackle crime carried out on the internet. Not entirely over-generously, the Government committed to spend £7m on the PCeU establishment in London, run by London’s Metropolitan Police, which was to be more than half-funded by the Met itself – and, at long last, run as a national service.

Thus was seven million Pounds set aside to tackle what was by then a four billion Pound industry, with impersonation online of the dead alone increasing by 60% per annum. Compare this to the £21billion entirely wasted on flash NHS IT schemes, or the £11 billion spent looking for bicycles of mass destruction in Iraq, and one gets some idea of the amoral level to which the Blair-Brown hegemony had sunk.

Today, the PCeU has its own rather cut-and-paste website, in which a photo of eCrime ‘Leader’ Janet Williams features. Janet’s been in the job since April 2008, when she was appointed Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations for virtual villains. But Janet hasn’t been able to give up the day job – which is (take a deep breath)

‘….responsibility for the protection of the Royal Family, the Palace of Westminster, senior politicians, and other VIPs, diplomatic premises, and for security at Heathrow and London City airports. I am also responsible for security and international liaison aspects of the London 2012 Olympic and Para-Olympic Games….’

So, bags of spare time to fill then.

As to its mission, the PCeU’s tasks ‘will be comprised of the following functions’. Edukashun, edukashun and edukashun eh? Trust me, you don’t want to read the functions description: it is pc fluffy meets McKinsey bollocks, and would only spoil an otherwise acceptable day in your lives.

I am as happy as the next person to laugh at the madness of those the Gods are in the process of destroying, but when the disguise of hugely rising crime goes unpunished – and the thankless task of protecting ordinary Britons from out-of-control eCrime is handed to a woman clearly already overworked – the hilarity must end. New Labour is no more, and there is a new person of Tory inclinations at the Home Office. For this ridiculous situation to continue would be beyond a scandal: it would be a dereliction of any government’s first duty – the protection of the citizen from unwanted harassment.

Related: See yesterday’s Slog piece How Jack Straw filled the prisons to meet targets.