Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1060
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2007
Q1060 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Does the Home Office need to support it to unlock the private
Commander Wilkinson: I am going to go back to
Vernon Coaker who is the minister concerned with the detailed
business case when it is completed.
Q1061 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Do you think it needs the Home Office to give their support and
provide some funding to unlock the private sector finance?
Commander Wilkinson: Vernon Coaker has already
given his full support of the unit and I need to go back to him
with the financial situation and put a business case to him. I
have no undertakings currently of government support but I have
not actually specifically asked for it yet.
Q1062 Lord Harris of Haringey:
The private sector sponsors are not saying that their support
will be conditional on Home Office financial support.
Commander Wilkinson: I have not had that specifically
said to me, no.
Q1063 Earl of Errol:
My understanding is that since the Home Office failure to match
funds for the Dedicated Card and Plastic Unit the private sector
was somewhat more sceptical about Home Office indications that
they would jointly fund or match funds for these things in the
Commander Wilkinson: I am sure there is some
scepticism and clearly there have been some cuts in similar areas
recently of existing funding but, as I say, I have spoken to the
Home Office minister concerned on two occasions now about the
actual unit and he has asked me to go back to see him again once
the chief constables have given their endorsementwhich
they have doneand once the detailed business case is prepared
and ready, which it is not yet, we are in the throes of doing
that at the moment.
Q1064 Earl of Errol:
My understanding is that the Home Office will not designate e-crime
as a separate crime or a separate category as they do not want
to muddle the fraud figures and the other forms of crime. If they
refuse to recognise it as a separate form of crime or as another
means of committing crimes, will that not make it very difficult
for them to provide funding for a unit?
Commander Wilkinson: I think it is more a question
for me of making sure that the e-crime issue is part of the national
strategic assessment and appears in the national policing plan,
the national community safety plan. When I have got to that stageI
am working towards that as wellI think by making it more
of a priority in terms of police aims and objectives nationally
that is the way to get resources put into it not only from government
but also around the country from the various police forces.
Q1065 Lord Howie of Troon:
Last weekend I had occasion to go down to the south coast near
Beachy Head to visit my daughter and grandchildren. While I was
away my burglar alarm went off. My next door neighbour rang up
the police who did not seem to be terribly worried about this.
Do you treat e-crime with the same promptness as they do?
Commander Wilkinson: It is very difficult for
me to comment on individual cases.
Q1066 Lord Howie of Troon:
They are all individual cases.
Commander Wilkinson: Yes, and I was in the throes
of answering that question when the bell went. Because of the
scale of e-crime across the board it is impossible for us to individually
investigate every single report of it. What we are doing is getting
an ever improving intelligence picture around what is happening
in terms of trends and types of e-crime that are being committed.
We are working in partnership with industry and other law enforcement
agencies to cut it off at the root, if you like, and to stop it
happening and to get ahead of the game. That is actually, I think,
the most effective way we could tackle e-crime. If an e-crime
is reported to us that represents a particular amount of threat
or harm to any individual or to any critical national infrastructure
or whatever then clearly that would immediately be risk assessed
as one that needed to be investigated separately.
Lord Howie of Troon: I am very happy
with that answer. It turned out to be a false alarm; I do not
have anything worth stealing anyway.
Q1067 Lord Mitchell:
The individual reporting this type of crime feels very, very stupid;
for the small amounts of money he feels very stupid and will not
take any action on it. This is the issue, is it not, they work
on the fact that there are millions out there who have small crimes
and therefore they do not report it?
Commander Wilkinson: I would hate any member
of the public to feel they could not report a crime that concerned
them to us. The important thing for people to understand is that
each individual e-crime cannot necessarily be individually investigated.
Certainly part of my remit with my national hat on is to make
sure that people receive a decent quality of service whatever
they are reporting to the police. Having said that, there are
a lot of other ways that people can draw crime to our attention.
There are various websites where people can tell us what has happened
in order for us to get a much better intelligence picture about
how to prevent it happening in the first place. We need to promote
those websites; although they are pretty well promoted already
we need to promote them more and to improve accessibility to the
websites. By improving that intelligence picture we can tackle
all of this much more effectively in the big picture.
Mr Hughes: The analogy of policing has always
been the same. You go in to report that your wing mirror has been
broken and the car window has been smashed and someone has attempted
to steal the car, most people will recognise that individual investigation
is not going to happen. What the cops do is build up a pattern
so that if every night or every Friday night for a certain period
of time this is happening in a certain locality, then the police
officers will do something about it. Often that will take out
the person who is doing it. It goes back to what I was saying,
you address the cause and not the symptoms. The same is true here.
An example of what we have done recently within SOCA is that we
were made aware of an attack that was going to be perpetrated
on Internet banking sites. This is in the public domain now because
we have referred to it and it will be in our annual report which
has just been published. We made that information available through
an alert to the banks and financial institutions; they were able
to put the software devices in place to prevent it from occurring
which meant that a lot of people carried on Internet banking without
any threat or hindrance and never knew it had happened. What would
have happened if it had gone through would have been a major problem
with a great many people who would have wanted to report it. It
would have seemed like small amounts but it would have amounted
up to a huge amount of money. It was stopped from happening and
that is what we are trying to do, get ahead of the curve rather
than investigate it afterwards. There would be some difficulty
chasing these guys after they have perpetrated the offence. The
point I was making earlier on is that we do need to know about
these matters so that we can build up a pattern and build up the
intelligence and that is what the police unit that Sue is talking
about is trying to do and what we are trying to do.
To what extent is SOCA already doing it for individual complaints?
You talk about the wing mirror, is what you say actually happening
with the equivalent in the e-world, if there is an e-Bay person
who has lost £180?
Mr Hughes: the equivalent in the e-world is
that that information is coming to us because of people like e-Bay
who will collate that and bring it to us. Other people who collate
it bring it to us. That is one of the reasons why some guidance
has gone out recently about making sure that information is collated.
When you report to your bank that you have been a victim then
it comes back in a collated pattern form we can do something about.
Q1069 Earl of Errol:
How long has this been happening?
Ms Lemon: e-Bay have a wealth of intelligence
around criminal activity.
Q1070 Earl of Errol:
I know from friends who have been defrauded using auction sites
that if they ring e-Bay then e-Bay say they cannot do anything
about that particular fraud because if they did not pay through
Paypal they are not interested. They suggest they report it to
the local police; the local police are not interested in taking
the report because the other person is under a foreign jurisdiction
and so what you are describing does not happen. Even if they were
to report it to SOCA it is not in your remit. Do you then parcel
that back out to the local police force to do something because
you are not responsible for level two crime across county boundaries
within the UK if serious crime is not behind it?
Mr Hughes: You are misunderstanding what I am
saying. The point is that what we are looking for and what we
are creating with our colleagues and people in the private sector,
is to build up that pattern and bring it back to us so that we
can do something about it.
Q1071 Earl of Errol:
If it is not serious crime you cannot, so what do you then do
with it? Do you report it to someone else?
Mr Hughes: That is the point. What we are talking
about hereas I was referring to with the fraud that went
onare very small amounts which build up into a large amount
of money. Serious organised crime is not defined in the legislation
that set up SOCA. The point is that what we are looking at is
that which impacts seriously upon individuals, where it is clearly
organised, where there is substantial financial profit or whether
there is violence or other harm caused. Those are the issues we
are looking at when these matters are reported to us.
Q1072 Earl of Errol:
When I report that I have lost £500 to you at SOCA, if you
decide it is not part of a serious organised attack and is something
below the million pound threshold perpetrated by a few people
in Britain, what do you do with that?
Mr Hughes: If those crimes are reported to us
then we will refer you to your local police force. That is the
issue we are talking about here.
Q1073 Earl of Errol:
Will they do anything about it?
Commander Wilkinson: There would be an initial
assessment of a report like that. You can quickly tell how difficult
it is going to be and whether it is even going to be possible
to identify the offender. Rhe Metropolitan Police on behalf of
the other forces, works with e-Bay to gather intelligence pictures
around particular trends and patterns. Once we have a good intelligence
picture we can put a proper investigation, whether it is at a
national or even at an international level working with SOCA then
we will do so.
Ms Lemon: Just for clarity, if these crimes
are reported to SOCA, where we work with e-Bay is because they
have a very good intelligence base around the big criminals on
e-Bay and that is where we engage with them.
Q1074 Earl of Errol:
That is the reason I used it as an example because actually people
do not and there is no mechanism to do it, therefore those crimes
do not actually get reported.
Ms Lemon: To the local police they do.
Mr Hughes: It was a point I was making, that
we need to find ways in which we can gather that information.
Q1075 Earl of Errol:
It is not a SOCA task to do that, it is a police task, is it?
This is an important distinction which is why the national centre
is so important and it is not to do with SOCA, it is to do with
the initiative led by Commander Wilkinson.
Commander Wilkinson: It may involve SOCA because
it depends on the scale of the issue. e-Bay is an international
organisation so we may need to work very closely with them.
Q1076 Earl of Errol:
I realise you may need to but the new national centre and all
the stuff we are talking about is not a SOCA responsibility.
Commander Wilkinson: Taking initial crime reports
at a local level is the responsibility of local police forces.
The purpose of the new ACPO police unit will be to coordinate
what happens across the 43 police forces, not to take individual
crime allegations but it will be to monitor crime patterns across
the UK, across the ACPO police forces.
Q1077 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
Commander Wilkinson, you have spoken about the websites where
people can report this.
Commander Wilkinson: Yes.
Q1078 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
Is there a website where you can report if you have been a victim?
Commander Wilkinson: The key one is the Fraud
Alert website which is currently available through the Metropolitan
Police website but is actually accessed by people nationally and
internationally. We have something up to 15,000 reports a month.
There is a disclaimer on the website to inform people that we
will not necessarily send a reply to the e-mail nor will we necessarily
investigate what we are being told about, but what the public
are doing is helping us to assess exactly what the intelligence
picture looks like so we can tackle it at source much more effectively.
Q1079 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
Ideally what you want is for people to go onto that website and
report it on the website rather than going round to their local
Commander Wilkinson: Both. I would never want
to discourage people from going to their local police station
but the useful thing about the Fraud Alert website is that reports
that appear on there are actually collated and assessed properly,
subject to intelligence analysis and dealt with and prioritised