A police officer insists today’s online criminals are not just “bedroom warriors” and that if television conman Del Boy was around today he would probably be making money via the internet.
Detective Constable Jonathan Stoker has spoken of the misconception surrounding cyber criminals as loners wreaking havoc from the sanctuary of their own homes.
While such stereotypes do exist, our list of case studies illustrates how today’s online villains range from individuals right up to organised gangs.
Det Con Stoker said the various profiles of hackers include criminals who a decade ago might have made their money from traditional activities such as theft.
Del Boy, played by actor David Jason, was a shady market trader in long-running BBC hit comedy Only Fools and Horses and not averse to selling on stolen goods.
Det Con Stoker added: “I have met some reasonably intelligent criminals over the years who, 10 or 15 years ago, might have switched clothing tags in shops as their way of making a living.
“Although you are always going to get your shoplifters, there are now younger criminals who have been brought up with computers here, there and everywhere, and think that is how to commit crime.
“It would be interesting to see Del Boy back today because if he had access to a computer then that is where he would probably be making his money, rather than in the market place.”
His comments come just days after Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger said today’s criminals are “as likely to have a laptop as a crowbar”.
Det Con Stoker added: “There are young people, some from deprived backgrounds, who are very, very good on computers thanks to their education and how prominent computers now are in everyday life.
“They can get a laptop for £150 to £200 and channel their illegal activities into them.”
As for stereotypical hackers, who are perhaps more interested in the challenge than any resulting financial reward, Det Con Stoker warned that their activities are still illegal.
He said: “You do get hacking communities where one person hacks into their school and then another goes to a university and then the first person goes back and tries the local council and so on.
“This might just be a game of one-upmanship, but ignorance of the law is no defence and could leave that person open to a lot of consequences.”
Det Con Stoker also pleaded with youngsters tempted by computer crime to remember that there is the potential to use their skills to make money legitimately by fighting online offending.
He said: “There are programmes run by the National Crime Agency where they are looking for creative individuals at national, regional and local level from all areas of the community. There are opportunities to use their talents for the better rather than the worse.”