THE number of reported cyber-crimes in Scotland almost doubled during the pandemic, new statistics have revealed.

There were an estimated 14,130 crimes which fall into the cyber-crime category recorded by Police Scotland in 2020-21 - a staggering 95% increase from the estimated 7240 reported in 2019-20.

The shocking rise in cyber-crimes logged by officers came as recorded crime fell in four key areas; non-sexual crimes of violence, sexual crimes, crimes of dishonesty, and fire raising and vandalism.

The National Statistics publication, released on Tuesday, stated that the cyber-crime rise was likely due to the “significant impact” of the pandemic, and stay-at-home orders and lockdowns imposed across the country limiting in-person social contact.

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It also suggested that the increase in fraud and computer misuse could be due to “perpetrators taking advantage of behavioural changes during the pandemic, such as increased online shopping”.

The report also shows a marked increase in offences recorded as “other sexual crimes” - which includes possessing and distributing indecent photos of children, communicating indecently and disclosing or threatening to disclose an intimate image. It should be noted however that this category also records non-cyber crimes such as public indecency.

Other sexual crimes now account for 50% of all sexual offences reported in Scotland, according to the latest figures.

The report estimates that cyber-crimes account for 6% of crimes recorded by police in 2020-21, compared to 3% in 2019-20.

Cyber-crimes now account for an estimated one-in-three sexual crimes (33%) in 2020-21, up from around a quarter (24%) in 2019-20.

The report also suggests that 12% of non-sexual crimes of violence are now estimated to be cyber crimes, alongside 10% of crimes of dishonesty.

The figures can only be used as estimates, as the report clarified that not every type of crime with a cyber element may have been captured during the analysis.

However, for the first time Police Scotland recorded reports where the perpetrator of the cyber-crime is in another country. Most of the reports for this related to fraud, leading to an additional 1160 crimes being recorded.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: "The nature of crime is changing with the online space becoming a bigger part of the frontline of policing every day.  As well as keeping people safe on the streets, our officers and staff are keeping people safe on their computers and smartphones in every community in Scotland. 

"As part of our ambitious Cyber Strategy, we are adapting the way we work to enable us to better respond to the increase in online crime and ensure we are properly equipped to meet modern challenges. This includes working in partnership with national and international partners to tackle this growing threat.”

The LibDems said the figures show the need for a “21st Century police force”.

LibDem Justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “In a society where a click of a button can move markets, seize control of personal computers or empty bank accounts, we must have a police force that is one step ahead of those who want to abuse our technologies.

"Senior police officers have warned in the past that the national force is struggling to get to grips with online offending.

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“The Justice Secretary needs to work with Police Scotland to understand the changing scale of the problem and assess what resources might be required to tackle it."

However, while cyber-crime is on the rise, there has been a slight decrease in four other key araes.

Non sexual crimes of violence decreased by 4%, from 9,316 to 8,972 and sexual crimes decreased by 2% from 13,364 to 13,131.

Crimes of dishonesty decreased by 19%, from 111,409 to 89,731, the lowest level since 1971, while fire-raising and vandalism decreased by 10% from 47,731 to 42,964, the lowest level since 1975.

The National:

Justice Secretary Keith Brown (pictured) said: “These statistics show how crime in areas like vandalism and dishonesty, the sorts of crime that affects peoples’ everyday lives, has fallen – with levels not seen since the 1970s.

“There is still work to be done as the figures on cybercrime show – which is why we have this year published a prevention, awareness and enforcement strategy to make Scotland an inhospitable place for scammers.

“And while Covid-19 has no doubt had an impact on the figures, recorded crime was on a downward trend beforehand and through the measures we recently announced in our Programme for Government - we will continue to make Scotland a safe place to live.”