New figures suggest the number of reported cyber crimes locally is rocketing.
Among the categories showing the highest increases across the Northumbria Police area over the last two years are sex offences - up by more than 53 per cent - with the combined
number of threats, harassment and intimidation cases nearly tripling.
Overall the number of cyber-related crimes reported to the force rose by just over 57 per cent from 3,730 in 2015-16 to 5,860 in the 12 months ending this March.
In neighbouring County Durham, the increase - albeit based on far smaller numbers - is closer to 90 per cent.
This paper requested the figures as part of new investigative campaign launched today by our parent company, Johnston Press, to highlight emerging tactics used by digital criminals.
Yet we will also work with our local forces and other experts to advise our readers how to defend themselves online.
So new is cyber crime as a recognised category that nationally-collated figures are still at what the Government terms the “experimental” stage and concentrate on fraud.
Today’s previously unpublished figures, released to us following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to each North-East force, cover all offences deemed to have a cyber element.
They have prompted Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird to call for more Government funding to tackle this “increasing burden”.
She said: “We need more Government investment at a national level to meet changing demands and support the work of our local forces and ensure there’s a co-ordinated approach
committed to tackling this issue head on.”
The number of sex crimes - covering areas such as revenge porn and offences against children - has increased in 12 months by just over 53 per cent from 474 cases to 726.
Incidents of threats, harassment and intimidation have risen over the same period by from 942 to 2,604.
Other areas showing marked increases are theft and fraud - up from 79 to 110 cases - and blackmail - which has gone up from 85 to 114 cases.
The overall rise is partly put down to the force increasing public awareness of cyber crime with some victims previously unaware that they have been targeted in the first place.
Dame Vera added: “Cybercrime is a growing problem internationally and one taken very seriously by Northumbria Police.
“It is undoubtedly an increasing burden on our police who have to understand rapidly evolving technologies whilst also ensuring our communities understand threats and dangers and ways
to keep safe.”
In Durham, the number of reported “cyber enabled” crimes has increased over from 2015-16 to 2016-17 by 87 per cent from 452 cases to 846.
Harassment cases - including cyber bullying on Facebook and Twitter - account for more than half the figure with a rise from 244 to 546 reports.
Detective Constable Jonathan Stoker, of Durham Police’s digital investigation and intelligence team, said the rise could be partly put down to an increased willingness on behalf of the
public to report offensive remarks.
He added: “I think the public have become far less tolerant of the troll and the hurt that it causes the victim and recognise that if they report these matters to us we will treat them seriously.”