The north-east has become the first area in Scotland to have its own dedicated cyber crime police unit.
Based in Aberdeen, the new cyber-enabled crime team will work alongside national units within Police Scotland to help develop specialist knowledge locally, enhance investigations and develop preventative strategies to help keep our communities safe.
Cyber crime, which includes non-contact fraud such as investment or safe account scams, online child sex abuse, romance fraud, and sextortion, has been on the rise across the country and has worsened during the pandemic as more people spend more time at home.
Cyber crimes becoming more ‘sophisticated and complex’
Detective Chief Inspector Sam Buchan of North East Division CID said the new unit had been created to help tackle the “steady, consistent growth” of crimes online.
He said: “The criminality has become fairly complex, therefore we’ve stepped up our methods and techniques in terms of investigating these crimes.
“We have to change to meet growing trends in criminality.
“They’re becoming much more sophisticated, much more complex, and much more widespread – which is exactly the reason why we’re implementing things like this focused, cyber-enabled unit.”
DCI Buchan said officers have observed “the changing pattern of criminality” in the world during the pandemic period – with offenders moving online to take advantage of increased internet usage.
Detectives will work alongside constables to stay on top of the latest crime methods and then pass that knowledge to officers elsewhere in the police division.
They will also work closely with specialist officers from within Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, the Economic Crime Financial Investigation Unit and National Cyber-crime investigations.
In the north-east during 2020/21, more than 1,500 fraud crimes were reported – several hundred more than the previous year when almost 850 cases were recorded.
Meanwhile, during the Covid-19 pandemic in June 2020, Police Scotland recorded the highest number of online child sexual abuse crimes on record.
New team will be ‘absolutely crucial’ in fight against cyber crime
DCI Buchan said: “The nature of crime is changing and North East Division needs to change with it.
“The online space is becoming a bigger part of frontline policing and, with the entire population asked to stay at home over the past year, the threat from those who exploit vulnerable people and children either for financial or sexual gain has been greater than ever.
“This dedicated team in the north-east will be absolutely crucial to enhance the work already ongoing nationally and provides a local commitment to an ever-increasing area of business.
“Bringing offenders to justice and protecting vulnerable people is key and particularly so in this area of policing when we consider the profile of those offending and those adversely affected. These incidents can be life-changing for victims.
“Prevention is absolutely crucial to tackling this complex area of crime and raising awareness of how people can avoid falling victim. We already work alongside a range of partners in the north-east to do this, and this new team will be responsible for strengthening these crucial relationships moving forward.”
One of the biggest challenges involved in tackling cyber crime, is the fact perpetrators could be based anywhere in the world.
Online cons can be ‘extremely believable’
DCI Buchan said: “We must have those strong links with the national units, looking beyond the north-east division, beyond Scotland and the UK.
“It makes it challenging in terms of the profile of the offenders, the global network, but that is part of the response and how we enhance our investigative techniques, working with the national units to do what we can.
“This issue is not isolated to any one country. It’s very widespread, far-reaching and far-ranging, anywhere from within Aberdeen and it’s very difficult to say anywhere beyond, but it can be global.”
Last year Police Scotland last year launched it’s Cyber Strategy 2020: Keeping people safe in the digital world’ which set out its plan to tackle the threat, risk and harm from digitally-enabled crimes, particularly online child sexual abuse, fraud and the sharing of indecent images.
DCI Buchan said the types of offences covered by cyber crime were “very wide-ranging”, including investment fraud involving cryptocurrency such as bitcoin.
Cyber cops to hold live Facebook Q&A
He added: “Safe account fraud is something that we’re seeing much more frequently. That can entail someone making a phonecall, very often targeting vulnerable people, suggesting that their money is in danger and they need to move it to a safe account.
“They can be extremely believable and people get drawn into this and the money gets moved and can be very quickly lost.
“It’s so important that we’re working with the private sector and financial institutions to get that preventative message across and stop people becoming victims of this type of crime.
“Romance frauds are also quite prominent. People strike up relationships online and the crux of that relationship will be to try and lure some sort of financial gain to the person making that initial contact.
“Sextortion is one as well. It’s very often a vulnerable person being duped into believing something by someone at the other end of a communication online.”
On June 30, officers from the new team will host a live Facebook chat on the North East Division Facebook page where members of the public can ask questions about any aspect of cyber crime.
The session will take place between 7pm and 9pm and questions can be posted under a dedicated post that will appear on the night.