Online retail crime needs to be addressed

Over the last six months it has rained so much that even a mere glimpse of blue skies or the feeling of sunshine upon our skin has left us elated but nervous. It’s as if we’ve forgotten what that used to feel like, so grey and wet has this year been.

While it may have dampened – literally – our domestic holiday plans, our want to sort the garden shed out, to dine alfresco or spend time watching the world go by in the great outdoors, thankfully, other aspects of our daily lives, have pretty much continued as normal. The digital age has brought everything to our fingertips.

We might have desired to go to the cinema, but streaming videos lets us link up our PCs to our gigantic TVs; a gig might have been called off, but with YouTube, we can watch the band’s music videos; and where we’ve needed to fill up our fridge and not wanted to get blasted with torrential rain, well, with a few clicks, we’ve navigated a virtual supermarket without stepping out of the door.

Everything is possible with the digital life, but while it comes with benefits, there are always downsides. A new report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has found that cyber crime, or e-crime as it describes it, represents one of the biggest challenges facing retailers in the 21st century.

In 2011-12 for example, British retailers were hit hard, with breaches to network security costing, in total, £205.4 million. Of this figure, £77.3 million was lost as a direct consequence of fraudulent activity, while the remainder was calculated as projections of business lost as a result of being a victim.

The most popular type of crime was personal identity fraud, followed by card fraud in general, after which came refund fraud. Though this was the bulk of criminal activity, it was by no means exclusive, with phishing also proving to be a growing problem for retailers.

While this in itself is problematic, it doesn’t help that retailers are not approaching such crimes in the same way as they would for non-digital crimes. The study noted that 60 per cent of businesses in this industry were unlikely to report any more than ten per cent of crimes to the authorities.

This indicates that somewhere, along the usual lines of communication, something has gone amiss. Considering that the UK is a leader in online retailing, such losses are harmful to finances and reputation.

“Online retailing has the potential for huge future commercial expansion but government and police need to take e-crime more seriously if the sector is to maximise its contribution to national economic growth,” advised Stephen Robertson, director of the BRC.

“Retailers are investing significantly to protect customers and reduce the costs of e-crime but law makers and enforcers need to show a similarly strong commitment.”

According to the expert, the study shows where efforts need to be directed. Mr Robertson said that the government, along with law enforcement agencies, need to work to develop a “consistent, centralised method for reporting and investigating e-crime”.

We welcome this. If there is, as the BRC calls for, a better, more organised system for getting businesses to consistently report, record and investigate crime, backed up with more support from the authorities, we can get a better, more detailed picture of trends in cyber crime. Knowing this allows us to build up better security measures.

After all, the last thing we want on a rainy day, cooped up in the home, is to lack the confidence to shop online for clothes, food or treats. Technology is about moving forward, it’s about high time retailers stepped up.

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