Lockdown could lead to highest ever levels of fraud and cybercrime, Portsmouth professor warns

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A PENDING economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 lockdown will lead to the highest levels of fraud and cybercrime ever recorded, according to a criminology expert at the University if Portsmouth.

Professor Mark Button, director of the institution’s centre for counter fraud studies, warned existing preventative measures need to be ‘urgently reviewed’ to deal with the scale of the rise in fraud.

The Office for Business Responsibility (OBR) has predicted UK GDP could fall by as much as 35 per cent as trade is hit by the pandemic.

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Prof Button pointed out the 1980 recession which led to a three per cent drop in GDP saw a 5.6 per cent rise in fraud, while the 1990 recession which had a 1.7 per cent GDP drop had a 9.9 per cent increase in fraud, while the 2008 recession, which had a 2.1 per cent GDP fall, saw a 7.3 per cent rise in fraud.

An empty-looking Commercial Road in Portsmouth after the government announced a lockdown on March 23.An empty-looking Commercial Road in Portsmouth after the government announced a lockdown on March 23.
An empty-looking Commercial Road in Portsmouth after the government announced a lockdown on March 23. | Other 3rd Party

He said: ‘Previous recessions show a direct correlation between a fall in economic output and a rise in fraud.

‘Recessions lead to increased financial pressures on more people and a small minority use fraudulent means to address such pressures.

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‘Respected economists have predicted the current crisis could lead to a substantial reduction in GDP with lowest estimates of a 7.4 per cent fall and highest estimates of a 35 per cent fall by the OBR.

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‘These predictions could mean fraud levels increasing by at least 30.3 per cent and possibly even doubling if the 35 per cent fall was to occur.’

ActionFraud has released figures showing a 400 per cent increase in coronavirus-related cybercrime and fraud since mid-February.

Examples include numerous frauds, phishing emails and bogus websites offering to track the virus, sell protective equipment or diagnose symptoms.

Prof Button added: ‘The deep recession we face, if typical of past economic downturns, looks set to lead to a substantial increase in fraud.

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‘Possible economic pressures may also lead people to radically re-evaluate loyalties and to rationalise behaviour which, in normal times, they would not consider appropriate.

‘It is unlikely that any organisation will be immune to these changes.

‘Organisations need to be prepared for this.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged the OBR’s prediction of 35 per cent fall in GDP at the government’s coronavirus conference on Tuesday.

He said Britons should be aware of ‘more tough times to come’, but insisted the economic downturn prompted by the pandemic would be ‘temporary’.

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