Crime in digital era poses new challenge

It is good the police force has set up a dedicated unit to handle phone and email scams but challenges remain, such as recruiting the right talent and educating the public

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 1:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 July, 2017, 1:10am

The city’s crime rate – or crimes per 100,000 people – fell from 1,061 in 2012 to 825 last year, according to research funded by the Correctional Services Department. The estimated cost to the community in legal processes, rehabilitation and crime prevention was at least HK$380 billion. But savings of more than HK$75 million were attributed to rehabilitation schemes, based on a drop in the reoffending rate.

The cost remains staggering. Yet we are seen to live in a safe city. That the crime rate dropped by about 20 per cent and rehabilitation – the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system – made a significant contribution reinforces how fortunate we are compared with a lot of other places. But we need to be prepared to rise to the challenges of the digital age. The police force is trying to do so through a new anti-fraud coordination unit. This followed 760 reports of phone and email scams and other deceptions in the first half of this year.

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With police recovering less than 10 per cent of the losses in such scams, they said the new unit would enhance cooperation with banks and other law enforcement agencies to recover money and combat laundering. Even though the overall crime rate was down, deception cases rose by 200, or 6 per cent, to 3,561 in the first six months year on year. The new unit will be responsible for strategy, intelligence, coordination, support and public education.

There is a touch of irony to the objective of cooperation with financial institutions, which compete with the police for the services of people with forensics or hi-tech anti-fraud expertise. Since they are not constrained by government pay structures or relativities, these institutions can pay whatever it takes to recruit talent, after he or she has been trained at the expense of the taxpayer. The demand is such that some talents set up independent consultancies to government and the private sector.

The new unit is welcome but it will need to be properly resourced to compete on a level playing field with other security customers. While we have to expect to pay more to combat a rapidly growing form of crime, educating the public remains the key and officials are right to have made this one of the new police unit’s responsibilities.