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Cyber crime more than doubles in a year

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Cyber crime has more than doubled in the West Mercia area in the space of a year, new figures show.

There were 1,454 reports to West Mercia Police last year – compared to 600 in 2015.

Crimes committed using computers ranged from theft to sexual grooming, blackmail and harassment.

Police bosses today admitted cyber-crime was "undoubtedly on the rise".

The West Mercia force is working closely with the West Midlands cyber-crime unit and is dedicated to tackling the issue.

Detectives said computers were increasingly considered as a weapon by criminals or those with a sexual motive.

The highest number of reported crimes involved harassment, with 1,269 made to the force over the past two years.

There were more than 300 reports made that cyber-crime had led to sexual offences being committed, including rape, sexual grooming and sexual assault or activity with children.

Other reported offences, where crimes involved the use of computer devices or the internet in some way, included making threats to kill, stalking, exposure and voyeurism, drug trafficking, child abduction and assault.

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Detective Chief Inspector Tim Bower, of West Mercia Police, said: "West Mercia Police is committed to tackling both cyber-dependent crimes, such as hacking and the spread of malware for financial gain, and cyber-enabled crimes, examples including fraud and the purchasing of illegal drugs.

"With a world that is increasingly technology-based, both in business and people's every day lives, cybercrime is undoubtedly on the rise.

"However significant steps have been taken to help meet this challenge. There are regional cyber-crime units across the country and West Mercia Police works closely with one in the West Midlands."

It was revealed in October that more than £30 million had been lost through fraud and cyber-crime in the West Mercia area in a year. The revelation, contained in statistics from Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, led to the region's police and crime commissioner John Campion launching a survey to evaluate the extent of cyber-crime across West Mercia.

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Computers now a tool for criminals

The computer is now being used as a tool by criminals wanting to steal, harass, blackmail or indulge in illegal sexual behaviour.

It can be involved in a minor theft from a shopping website or go to the very top, with hacking into personal accounts, sensitive information –even Government secrets.

Cyber-crime carried out using computer networks and other devices has soared in recent years.

This type of crime more than doubled in the West Mercia area alone from 2015 to 2016, with offences including harassment, stalking and sexual grooming.

It has also been responsible for millions of pounds being lost in the region and dedicated crime-fighting teams have been set up to tackle the issue.

Computers can be used as weapons to commit the crimes, but they can also be the targets.

The rise of social media has also provided a hunting ground for cyber criminals.

Earlier this week, Thomas Greenwood was recalled to prison for four-and-a-half months after he admitted an offence of harassment at Telford Magistrates Court.

The court heard the 20-year-old, of Meadow Lea in Madeley, Telford, sent a series of threatening messages via Facebook to a stranger who he claimed sent requests for images to his pregnant wife.

And last year, Heath Forbes Heatlie, of Rye Bank, Wem, was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, at Shrewsbury Crown Court.

He pleaded guilty to three charges of making indecent images of children in August, 2014, and one charge of distributing the material between August 2011 and August 2014.

The court heard that he is a director of health outcome solutions for the drug manufacturing giant GlaxoSmithKline at the company's Shrewsbury complex.

He had more than 400,000 indecent images of children on computers recovered from his home and had also been involved in a network that distributed some of the material on the internet.

Police chiefs say they have noted the rise in cyber-crime and it is now one of the biggest challenges they face.

Nationally, the value of fraud committed in the UK last year topped £1bn for the first time since 2011, prompting a warning about increasing cyber crime and the risk of more large-scale scams as the economy comes under pressure.

The 55 per cent year-on-year rise in the value of fraud to £1.1bn reported in the court system was recorded by accountants KPMG, which found that while the cost of fraud was higher the number of incidents was lower.

Highlighting a dramatic rise in cybercrime, KPMG's statistics included a £113m cold-calling scam for which the ringleader received an 11-year jail sentence in September. Feezan Hameed was caught after targeting 750 Royal Bank of Scotland customers in the biggest cyberfraud the Metropolitan police had seen.

In the West Mercia region, cyber crime is on a smaller scale, but none the less damaging to those affected.

That means putting in the man hours and ensuring the funds are in place to tackle it properly.

Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police has a dedicated economic crime unit providing a professional single point of contact for Action Fraud and qualified fraud investigators.

The unit also contains accredited financial investigators, who provide support to all areas of the alliance in relation to financial evidence, as well as dealing with all asset recovery for the forces.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim Bower, from West Mercia Police, said the force had placed a strong emphasis on raising awareness of how people can protect themselves against cyber-crime.

In December 2014, the force launched the ongoing #Be Cyber Smart campaign, in conjunction with Warwickshire Police, to give people the knowledge they need to help them stay safe online.

DCI Bower added: "An understanding of the scams to look out for and knowing the simple preventative measures that can be put in place really can reduce the chances of people falling victim to many types of cyber-crime."

West Mercia's police and crime commissioner John Campion launched a survey last year to gather a more comprehensive picture of online crime and help shape support for victims.

He said " Cyber is an emerging area of crime and it is important we understand how it is impacting our communities if we are going to be effective in reducing it.

"West Mercia Police continues to tackle emerging threats, and I am reassured by their agile, dynamic approach, not only in terms of investigations but also around prevention and building public understanding.

"As this is a threat which goes beyond borders, West Mercia Police works closely with a number of partners who, like myself and the chief constable, are making this a priority.

"We must ensure work is focused on the issues that matter to our communities, and keep up the pace with new cyber threats.

"To assist with this I have launched, along with other police and crime commissioners, a regional cyber survey. I'd encourage cyber victims to offer their views so we can continue to ensure their needs are met."

To complete the survey, which closes on Tuesday, visit surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RegionalCyber16

To find out more about #Be Cyber Smart go to westmercia.police.uk/becybersmart

Victims of fraud, or anyone suspecting they may have fallen victim, should contact Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud or call 0300 123 2040.

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