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UK crime rate inflated by addition of cybercrime statistics

The rate of murders and sexual offenses also rose

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Levels of criminal activity in England and Wales have generally been trending downwards over the last two decades, but the latest crime report from the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS) has shown a rise thanks in part to the inclusion of cybercrime for the first time. Overall, levels of crime declined 8 percent compared to the previous year, with around 6.5 million reports, but a trial survey addressing cybercrime produced estimates of 5.1 million incidents of online fraud and 2.5 million other digital offenses.

"It's the first year we’ve had a suitable amount of data to publish robust estimates on cybercrime," ONS press officer Richard Miles told The Verge. "It's been acknowledged that there are concerns that the full extent of cybercrime was not being recorded by the [ONS crime] survey, but this is an attempt to measure something we’re aware is going on." The FBI, by comparison, doesn't include cybercrime in its crime statistics.

84 percent of reported cybercrime involved computer viruses

The UK's cybercrime figures were produced by surveying 2,000 households between May and August, with respondents' answers used to produce estimates for the whole of England and Wales. The majority of offenses in the cybercrime category — 84 percent or 2.1 million — related to viruses infecting' computers and smartphones. The rest of the reported incidents involved "unauthorized access to personal information," such as hacked email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

If these provisional cybercrime figures are included in the statistics, the total number of annual offenses hits 14.1 million. This is far less than the recent peak of 19 million in 1995 (not including cybercrime), but it's a big bump from the previous year. It's possible to interpret this data as showing that crime itself is not falling, but the nature of crime is changing. However, the vast majority of cybercrime recorded by the ONS was low-impact. For example, of the 5.1 million cases of online fraud, nearly 40 percent involved sums of less than £20 ($30).

And although overall crime rates excluding cybercrime fell, there was an increase in violent incidents, including murder and rape. The murder rate was up 44 to a total of 569 deaths, and there was a 41 percent rise in rape and other sexual offenses. The ONS believes that the latter increase is due to a change in police reporting and perhaps culture as well. The Guardian notes that officers now talk about "reports of rape" rather than "allegations of rape," which suggested an element of disbelief, while the ONS states that the increase reflects "a greater willingness of victims to come forward."