Skip to main content

Internet Fraud

Volume 482: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2008

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Steve McCabe.]

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cook, and to see the Minister here, as well as a sprinkling of Members who survived the night and who managed to get up in time this morning. It is a huge privilege not only to have secured a debate on this subject but to have the very first debate after the earth-shattering events in America. I am pleased to be the first Member to congratulate Mr. Obama on dreaming the impossible dream and walking towards it.

I shall now bring us down to earth with a huge bump. What I shall discuss is terrible, but it is of crucial importance at this time of credit crunch, job losses and negative equity. The seeds have been sown for criminals to catch desperate, unwary people.

In the 1600s, the Duke of Buckingham stated:

“The world is made up for the most part of fools and knaves, both irreconcilable foes to truth.”

Things have changed tremendously. Obviously, knaves are still the foes of truth, but it is no longer just fools as well. Every one of us can be caught by the incredible complexity and professionalism of scams that take place on the internet, by telephone and by letter.

I shall illustrate that with one disastrous, devastating case that has affected one of my constituents. I first heard about it when my constituent wrote to me in April. The first paragraphs of his letter state:

“I regret to report to you that our current society and the government as a whole have failed to protect the victims of fraud.

I would like to state that fraud victims are far more damaged psychologically than violence victims.”

My hon. Friend is a wise, sincere and caring Member of Parliament, and he is right to bring this important matter to our attention. He will elucidate a specific case, but there is a general problem as well, and that is what I want to address. Not everything in Nigeria is working well, as we all know, but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is well focused. It is the best bet to tackle the source of the great proportion of internet crime, fraud and scams, which particularly target and hurt vulnerable British people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should target the source of fraud by giving even more support than they currently do to the EFCC?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I would rather leave it to the Minister to tell us what is being done and what can be done, but I take the point. Crucially, this is a cross-party matter, and I do not see a place anywhere for party point scoring.

The person involved in the example that I am using to illustrate my case is a professional man. We cannot say that he is a fool. In retrospect, he was obviously unwise, but he is a professional man. He was told that he had won a huge sum of money on a foreign lottery but that it was held by Customs awaiting payment of duty. To my utter amazement, he paid £104,500—I do not know where he found it—as duty and then received a receipt, ostensibly on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs paper. I have been told by HMRC that it is not a bad forgery. It stated:

“Dear Sir,

Ref: Consignment Boxes

We write to inform you that your consignment from Spain has been in our custody since 4th April 2008. We confirm that a total payment of £104,500.00 has been received on your behalf for duties. From our record we discover that your consignment has been in our custody for 70 Days which has attracted demurrage.”

The fraudsters then had the nerve to ask for more money:

“However, we equally discovered that a waiver was granted to you for 21 Days leaving you with a demurrage for 49 Days totalling £37,240.00 to be paid before your consignment can be released.

I also confirm that you have been given a 14 Days grace to pay this amount or risk further demurrage.”

That very convincing receipt was on what looked like official paper. Thank goodness the poor chap approached his lender for the £37,240—he thought that he would get half a million pounds, or something like that—and his lender smelled a rat. My constituent, still totally trusting, sent an apologising e-mail to the scammers and then got a most remarkable, defensive reply, which obviously let the cat out of the bag. The spelling and grammar were bad. It was from a firm called Asset Protection International, and included convincing information about the company, and photos and CVs of its directors, including their qualifications and family details.

My hon. Friend is giving an example from his constituency, but I suspect that each and every one of us have received e-mails to tell us that we have won a prize in a Spanish lottery. In the midst of my delight at winning a Spanish lottery, the question I always ask myself is, did I buy a ticket? The answer is, no, I did not—therefore, how can I win a prize? Does my hon. Friend not think that there is an onus on people, when they receive such e-mails—he has said that his constituent is a professional man—to utilise at least an ounce of common sense and realise that one needs to buy a ticket to win a prize?

Of course that is obvious in retrospect, but if a person is in desperate debt already and sees something that looks like salvation, will they remember that they did not buy a ticket? That is the whole problem. I shall come on to awareness, because the whole point of this debate is to raise awareness of the problem

Returning briefly to the example, I wrote to HMRC, which got further information from my constituent and is now working with the West Mercia police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Association of Chief Police Officers, City of London police and the National Fraud Strategic Authority, but there is little hope of getting the chap’s money back.

Since then, one of our local papers, The Kidderminster Chronicle, has issued warnings about false lottery winnings, huge legacies from long-lost relatives overseas and a soldier in Iraq who asked a lady to look after his money for him until he comes back. Other cases have been highlighted in the newspapers. The Sunday Mirror told of the terrible tragedy of an elderly lady who was £80,000 in debt. She could not afford heating and died of pneumonia. The Times wrote about elderly people in Westminster who were caught by a prize draw scam. Those are all examples of “phishing”, which aims to get money out of people or to obtain their identity details.

I have an extremely good assistant who weeds out my e-mails, but yesterday the spam filter—I nearly called it a scam filter—did not pick up something that came to my assistant, supposedly from Abbey National. It stated:

“This is to inform you that your Abbey National Plc profile needs to be updated”.

All someone has to do is just click on it. It is absolutely scandalous that our spam, or scam, filter even lets that through.

There is another aspect to this. I am grateful to the Federation of Small Businesses for letting me know that nearly 20 per cent. of small businesses feel that the risk of online fraud is a deterrent to their buying and selling online. Small businesses report that phishing e-mails are a continuing problem. Theft of internet domain names is also a huge issue, with fraudsters posing as legitimate businesses trying to draw customers away. Damage can be done to a business’s reputation.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he share my concern that, in Wales, as a recent survey has revealed, only 35 per cent. of small businesses fully operate their financial procedures online? To emphasise the point that he has just made, more than 38 per cent. of them said that the threat of international fraud was a direct impediment to their developing their online services further.

That is true. It is a huge deterrent to small businesses.

I thought that I had secured a debate free of medical interest and that I was going to break the mould, but I met the editor of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin recently who sent me a paper called “The counterfeiting superhighway”, by the European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines, which mentions the huge numbers of online pharmacies that are putting at risk the people who use them. The foreword to that paper states:

“The internet has the power to be the greatest single force for good in history, the capacity to enable each of us to learn about people, places and events that were previously unimaginable.

How many of us would routinely invite fraudsters, thieves, pornographers, paedophiles, criminal gangs, terrorists and the like, into our homes? All of these inhabit the dark recesses of the internet and, every time we log on, we risk coming across them.”

The executive summary states:

“This report has been written with one goal in mind—to raise public awareness of the inherent dangers of purchasing prescription-only medicines…via the internet….The objective of this report was to clarify the likelihood of medicines purchased online being counterfeit, substandard or otherwise illegal, and to develop recommendations that will protect patients and consumers from the potentially lethal outcomes of access to these products.”

Some of the research published in the report is terrifying. In only 6.2 per cent. of online pharmacies is there a named, verifiable pharmacist; only 9.7 per cent. require a prescription for prescription-only medicines; 55 per cent. offer bulk discounts; and fewer than two in 10 physically exist, which means that they do not have a traceable bricks-and-mortar address.

The conclusion to the report states:

“With just an internet connection and a credit card, medicines that are stringently regulated in Europe and global markets can be bought effortlessly over the internet. As the results of this research reveal, the actual products delivered to buyers range from genuine—though still illegal—to dangerous substandard copies and illicit counterfeit products…At present, online buyers receive no shelter from the threat, and ironically the attraction, afforded by deceptive and corrupt online medicine sales.”

Here we have another example of ruthless criminals targeting the vulnerable.

We all call the hon. Gentleman “My hon. Friend”, and rightly so. Does he agree that the one issue the Government need to tackle is the lack of hard, verifiable data about the scale of the scams, frauds and cybercrime that are taking place? Even when hon. Members try to extract information about numbers of arrests, prosecutions and convictions for such crimes, the answer routinely bounced back is that such information is not held centrally. We need to start doing that so we can treat this area with the importance that it deserves and allocate adequate resources to it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As I have said, I am leaving it to the Minister to give us the answers; but I have one or two suggestions for him, one of which is that we need a widely co-ordinated campaign of research to discover the depth of the problem and ways to produce awareness in the ordinary person. I hope that the Minister will help us in this way when he winds up. It is essential that we try to catch and punish the criminals, but doing so will be extremely difficult. Our job is to raise the awareness of the vulnerable so that they are less likely to be caught.

I have one suggestion, request or recommendation. However, first, I remind hon. Members of the marvellous little book, “Commons Knowledge”, written by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), which has 10 commandments for Back-Bench Members of Parliament, including,

“Serve…the weak and the neglected”

and “seek the silent voices”. It is these people whom we are trying to protect: the older people living alone, suffering hardship because of inadequate pensions and because their savings have gone long ago. They are soft targets, and they are subject to scams by phone, by letter and, sometimes, by e-mail.

This is a timely debate. Since we are talking about raising awareness, does the hon. Gentleman agree that financial institutions have a duty to protect their customers? They are only too ready to send us letters and communications about all the services that they sell, yet they are not taking responsibility for informing customers about phishing attacks and how to better protect themselves. Is it not about time that the banks and financial institutions took some responsibility for protecting their own customers?

In an ideal world, yes. The huge problem is that I am beginning to distrust anything that comes from my bank by e-mail or mail. I am rather confused about the whole thing.

How do we get at ordinary people to warn them? Already, there have been lots of efforts at warning people on the internet and in the press, but a huge co-ordinated awareness campaign on TV, radio, press and internet is needed, so that few people can miss it and so that the elderly who do miss it can be warned by their relatives, friends, home helps or visiting nurses. I would hate to invent yet another special day, much as I would hate to invent another all-party group, but we could have a scam alert day—SAD—because it is sad that we need it. What day could we have that on? What is the saddest day of the year? It is the first Monday after the new year holiday. Monday is always sad, so scam alert day should be the first Monday in the new year.

When such a day is launched, a slogan is needed. In the 1700s, Lord Chesterfield had the slogan

“ridicule is the best test of truth”.

We have the modern equivalent of that already—although I did not invent it. That slogan is, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.” We must blazon that abroad.

I think, Mr. Cook, that you are nearly as ancient as I am, so you will remember various slogans from the war that will never be forgotten—for example, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” and “Careless talk costs lives”. Why do we remember them? Because they were associated with a brilliant cartoon. On scam alert day, we need a huge cartoon to be launched with the caption, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.”

If hon. Members will allow me a moment of levity, I shall describe the cartoon I would draw—if I could draw. The cartoon would be of Pinocchio, who was caught by a terrible scam, promised all sorts of goodies and went to the land where they were turned into donkeys. However, he had a conscience—Jiminy Cricket—who was a beautifully dressed cricket with a big badge saying “conscience”. My cartoon would have a picture of Jiminy Cricket lecturing Pinocchio and saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.”

I really think we could do something to tackle this problem. Like Barack Obama walking towards the impossible dream, if we could raise the awareness of these scams so that people no longer take them up, in the words of the South African author Bryce Courtenay, we could

“dream the impossible dream and start walking towards it”.

It is a delight to see you so early in the morning, Mr. Cook, and to be under your tutelage. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on raising the issue. Like him, I passionately use the internet and could not exist without it; we google for Britain daily. We learn a lot from the internet, but the downside of it is the scams that take place, some of which he has described. I shall discuss some of medical scams that take place and are a problem.

The first scam I shall talk about is the genetic health warning. I have had permission to do so from Professors Clarke and Frayling, who have not published the information yet—although it is in the process of being published. They are both at the Institute of Medical Genetics at Cardiff university and are very senior individuals. Professors Clarke and Frayling talk about a recent TV programme “The Killer in Me”, which showed four celebrities carrying out a battery of genetic tests.

The website of the company Genetic Health states:

“Genetic Health has proudly partnered with ITV for a one off…documentary”.

The information produced by Professors Clarke and Frayling states:

“These tests, it was claimed, would indicate the susceptibility of each individual to a set of the common, complex degenerative diseases of today including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's dementia, osteoporosis and some of the common cancers.”

They take issue with the programme because it is accessible on the internet. Their argument will come out and will I am sure be on TV again. Some of the seductive techniques used to do the tests are exemplified in their paper, which also takes issue with

“the misrepresentation of what the test results could mean to the clients; the active promotion of the tests despite the evident doubts and uncorrected misconceptions of the ‘customers’; the qualifications and conduct of those undertaking the face-to-face marketing”.

The paper asks:

“Is it acceptable for a registered medical practitioner to front a company offering health-related services?”

Quite clearly, the professors’ point is that we have a professional organisation of genetic centres in the national health service through which thorough testing is carried out. People’s permission and consent to do so is obtained and they are advised and informed statistically and in other ways what the chances are that they have a genetic disease. No attempt is made to fool people in the way that this company is by saying, “You’re going to get dementia; you’d better do something about it.” We could guess what kind of advice the company gives people: a change of diet, stop drinking alcohol and start walking or running. People pay £100, £200 or £500 for that advice.

I shall refer to some of the other scams I have pulled off the internet. One is www.cancure.org. That website offers conventional tests and it has been said that it makes wildly exaggerated claims about cancer. The website states:

“Anti-malignin antibody screen test is designed to pick up cancers well in advance of other signs and symptoms, months before conventional medical tests can detect it.”

The website has a wonderful way of getting out of the problem if the tests do not work. It states:

“However, for advanced cancer, if the antimalignin antibody is wiped out”—

whatever that means—

“the test won't work.”

I have looked at the 17 papers on the substance malignin—they have suddenly dried up. The most recent publication gives a sensitivity of 59 per cent. and 62 per cent. as a test for breast cancer, compared with internet claims that false positives are 5 per cent. and false negatives 7 per cent, which are quite striking levels. The same information is listed in relation to prostate and bowel cancer tests. Again, the website gets out of it by saying that the tests are not 100 per cent. accurate, but that it is as good as it gets. There is no mention of going to see a GP or using the national health service to get an accurate follow-up or advice and counselling.

The same problems exist in the field of allergy testing. I will not go into it in great detail, but food allergies can be detected in almost anybody. Again, get-out clauses exist, stating that there could be a false positive or false negative. The information is very misleading when taken in complete isolation. I am sure that many hon. Members have been asked to take a blood sample by doing a finger prick test. The finger is pricked with a lancet; the sample is put in a tube and sent off. It is difficult to do that; getting blood out of a finger—I was going to say stone—is not as easy as it sounds. All sorts of things can go wrong—for example, there could be an infection or dry skin could mean that the blood drops do not form properly.

Tests on two particular enzymes are also available to locate certain types of damage. Those enzymes are traditionally used in the national health service as well, but they are only good for identifying certain kinds of liver problems; they do not identify tumours and so on. Again, that means that someone is given a false reassurance that everything is fine with their liver and that they can go away happy, carry on drinking and do what they want and they will not get cancer.

The problems mean that these tests will not necessarily give someone an accurate diagnosis. So I ask hon. Members why people do not go to their GP, instead of sending a company a cheque for £100 to £500 for doing these tests. These scams go on all the time. Why are people conned into having these tests? They are worried, they think there is a problem, and so they see an advert or something on the internet and say, “I’ll have a look at this because it’s too long to wait for a GP to do it.”

These scams are perpetrated not just on bogus sites, but on highly reputable sites, such as eBay. That has 20 million items for sale and some 200,000 items will be added in the next hour and a half. Thousands of scams are linked to eBay and people are trying hard to combat that. Leicestershire is in fact the third worst area in terms of scams that have been detected. Does my hon. Friend believe that organisations such as eBay and the authorities should work together more intensively to promote the training of police officers to assist with the detection of awful incidents of this kind?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, that is what has to happen; these scams have to be wiped out. At certain times in their life, people feel vulnerable. People look for the evidence in relation to scams and if it is scanty, false or not proven, it is criminal harm to perpetrate these frauds and lies that affect people’s lives. I am sure that many people whose health has been affected in this way keep quiet about it. The labs that do the work and the advertising on the internet are not accredited, and we all know that labs have to win accreditation certificates in the national health service. There must be proper processing, and the confidentiality of results must be assured. However, there is no way to be assured of the accuracy of the results that people receive from the organisations that we are discussing. They have an amazing turnaround time of 10 days. Hard-working NHS labs can do things in as little as 20 minutes if they are urgent or within 24 hours if they are routine.

People do take responsibility for their lives. They think that they have to do that. They are continually being told, “You must take responsibility for your health” and “Don’t bother the GP,” so of course when they are having those problems, they turn to the internet. There are other types of testing that I can mention. There is dietary testing and food allergy testing. It is possible to have pregnancy tests done as well. All sorts of sampling can be done on the internet, and all those things are fully provided by the NHS and easily available.

Many aspects of the labs carrying out the testing need to be examined. A recent court case involved a Harley street doctor who was carrying out IVF—in vitro fertilisation. He was untouchable for some time by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The authority took it upon itself to raid him and there was subsequently a court case. Plenty of that is going on.

For every aspect of people’s health, there is an internet site and a company operating in the way that we are discussing. Whether it is headaches, migraines, tiredness, fatigue, weight problems, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, catarrh, sinus congestion, digestive disorders, anxiety, ME or depression, people can have a test for it if they want.

With all this testing for allergies and so on, I am thinking of going into business myself. I have thought of the perfect website. On it, I shall offer a genetic test for gullibility. I shall ask people to spit in a bottle and send it off to me with a cheque for £500. Two weeks later, they will receive a letter telling them exactly how gullible they are.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing this timely debate. He spoke about having an internet scam or fraud awareness day once a year. I suspect that we should have them once a week, along with the gullibility test that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) spoke about, because much as we think that people should use common sense—“If you haven’t bought a ticket, you haven’t won a prize”—many people out there are fairly desperate. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest gave a perfect answer to my intervention in that respect. Those people are looking for an answer, and an easy answer is to take a prize even though they did not enter the draw for it.

Both hon. Gentlemen spoke about health, and slimming is another issue. For people who want to carry on eating what they like and doing no exercise whatever, there will be someone who claims that they can sell them a slimming solution for $500. Clearly, there is a need for the gullibility test again.

The hon. Gentleman is aware, though, of the way in which phishing works. If 1,000 e-mails are sent out claiming to be from Egg or HBOS, one or two of the recipients will have Egg or HBOS accounts—or have bought a Spanish lottery ticket—and those are the people who are caught. It is not just the gullible people whom we have to watch; it is everyone. I receive about three such e-mails a week. Thankfully, I have not yet had one claiming to be from my own bank.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is absolutely right. I am chairman of the all-party group on identity fraud and I know the issues only too well. We had ID fraud week a couple of weeks ago, which was about trying to raise awareness of such scams.

I loved the cartoon in this morning’s Metro. Barack Obama is standing in front of an American flag before thousands of adoring, cheering people, his arms out, and his first words on hearing that he has become President are, “What now?” That is perfect. What now? Well, the answer is that he has a lot of work on his hands. In the United States of America, phishing attacks cost $2.8 billion in 2006 alone, whereas in 2004 it was $137 million. That shows the rise in such attacks in a short time. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) is absolutely right; the attacks are aimed at hitting only one or two of the 1,000 people who are sent the e-mails. I am in receipt of loads of those e-mails, which are incredibly professional. When you open one, it looks as though it has come from HSBC.

Well, one does not know when one receives those e-mails. When I open the initial e-mail and it is from HSBC telling me that unless I fill in certain details my online account will be closed, I am a bit worried because I do not have an account with HSBC and I think that it is awful that the people at HSBC are going to close that account that I do not have with them, so I do not respond. However, I have had such e-mails from other banks with which I do bank, and that is the problem. They are professional and they use the logos that the banks use. They even, because the people responsible have a lot of brass neck, tell the recipients what to do to protect themselves from internet fraud. They tell people measures that they should take to protect themselves, because they are out to rob people’s money and they want to do things as professionally as they can.

I cannot say to people in this case, “How gullible can you be?” The people responsible want bank details and passwords. The people who respond think that they are sending the information to the bank, but it is redirected to the scamsters in Nigeria or wherever they are operating from. Nigeria, for whatever reason, seems to be a growth area in this business. Those involved only need 1 per cent. of people to answer. They can rake in millions of dollars from that small percentage.

I am amazed that people still respond when they receive an e-mail from someone whom they do not know in Nigeria who says that their husband has died and they wish to give them 10 per cent. of $150 million if they will help them to move the money. Let us say that I receive such an e-mail. The idea is that I help the person to move their money from Nigeria into my bank account. Then I give them the money minus 10 per cent., which I am to keep. I do not know those people, but they are trusting me to do that operation. Again, a gullibility test is needed. How stupid can some people be that they respond to those e-mails? However, the fact is—the hon. Member for Wyre Forest was right on this—that there is a small group of people out there who are vulnerable, trusting and, in some cases, desperate. They need money.

I have recently looked at boiler room fraud activity. I have seen letters from people who only wanted to get a bit of money to make their family secure, so they invested in worthless shares that were sold to them as a result of telephone calls from people whom they did not know.

The hon. Gentleman refers to Nigeria as the source of a good number of these crimes. Of course, there are other countries where they are also common. Does he agree that as a gesture of good faith, our Government ought to be working more actively internationally and that, in addition to signing the international treaty on the combating of cybercrime, which happened in 2001, it is high time that we ratified it and started to put more political clout behind that international campaign?

I am more than happy to be the conduit for that message to be passed on to the Minister, who I am sure, as he is writing his notes, will give a full and frank explanation as to when the treaty will be ratified. What has been said is absolutely right. We live in a global world. We see from the financial crisis that something that happened in one part of the world has affected everyone. The same applies to internet fraud. There are groups of people operating. For some reason, there is boiler room fraud in Spain. Groups of people there are trying to suck people’s money away using the telephone.

Part of the problem is that chip and PIN, which was introduced a few years ago, has been so successful at stopping people stealing credit cards and taking money in that way that the fraudsters have moved on to the internet and telephones. That fraud has gone up as fraud from stolen credit cards has gone down. There is still a problem with credit cards. Scams are still operating whereby people install software or a little camera and are able to work out people’s passwords. Yet people still use the same password for up to six cards. People are still afraid to put their hand over the chip and PIN keypad when entering their four digits, yet that is exactly what they should do. Even when at an ATM, they should put their free hand over the keypad in case there is a hidden camera above it. It is even possible that something has been installed inside the machine; everything may look all right but the purpose is to skim information off the card and to use it later. Chip and PIN has been effective; as a result, much more fraud is happening on the internet and the telephone.

I return to something that I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Wyre Forest. When financial institutions send out statements or bits of information, or ask us to borrow yet more money, or to take out insurance or whatever else they are selling, for goodness’ sake, they should shove in a bit of paper to tell the customer about the latest scams, such as boiler room fraud.

I have never received any information from my bank telling me to watch out for phishing attacks. However, many people simply do not know what phishing attacks are all about. If they have not been warned by their banks or the credit card companies, why should they be on the lookout for them? They may think it a bit odd now and again to receive an e-mail from another bank, one that they do not deal with, and they probably say to themselves, “Oh well, I’ve been sent that in error.” The fact is that people need to be told.

Awareness of scams is limited, and there are always new ones. As one scam is closed, the fraudsters are already thinking of the next one. There is no final victory. We need the financial institutions and the Government to tell us all the time what is going on.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned various scams. One scam has not yet been discussed. Phishers from other countries will sometimes try to develop a personal relationship with the recipient of an e-mail, eventually agreeing to come here to meet that person—probably a vulnerable person—but on the way to the airport they have a crash and are taken to hospital. They then say that they need money to be sent to them immediately so that they can get out of hospital and come over here—or some such heart-rending story. Those are the more sinister and awful scams. They play on people’s relationships and emotions.

I had not heard of that. That is a new one, and people should be made aware of it. We are talking about vulnerable people, but the perpetrators are callous and do not care. They do not care that an 80-year-old lady will lose her life savings. All they want is her money. I have been told of people in hospital being sent flowers by fraudsters in order to get more money from them. How callous can they be? Yet that is exactly what they do. That was a good example of a scam—one that I have not heard of before.

I believe that the onus is on the Government, working with the financial institutions, to run an advertising campaign. I cannot remember the last campaign on ID fraud. Capital One, in trying to sell its credit cards, now and again says that one can take out protection against ID fraud. How about the Government working with the financial institutions in running a proper campaign? Given the credit crunch, this is a time when everyone’s awareness ought to be raised, because a lot more people will be desperate for cash. We are coming up to Christmas and people will want to buy presents for their families. They may have lost their job or seen their savings being depleted, and they will be desperate for money. This is the time when people ought to be aware that others out there will be trying to get their money.

It has been suggested that we need to take an international approach, working with police forces throughout the world on intelligence in order to close such scams.

One case mentioned by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest was of a professional man—someone who ought to have known better but who, for all sorts of reasons, went ahead. Many of the letters that I have been shown by victims of fraud fall into that category. People say, “How come they fell for that? How come they parted with thousands of pounds to someone they did not know?” It happens because people are vulnerable, and if the fraudster gets them at the right moment they will part with their cash. In many cases, however professional people are, they do not believe that nasty people out there are quite prepared to steal their money.

Common sense is important. “Buyer beware” is vital on the internet, because whatever the problem, someone will be trying to sell an easy solution. Awareness is the order of the day. We cannot turn the internet back. Sales on the internet are huge, and we need to do a lot more to protect people from themselves, and from their own gullibility.

I make one aside. Financial institutions and the credit and debit card companies should invest far more in new technology. For instance, people using their credit cards to buy stuff on the phone are asked for the three digits on the back of the card or the four digits on the front. I know of one instance when the person taking that information used it against the person who owned the card. The number was written on a slip of paper and put in a pocket. The information was then abused. When buying items on the computer or even on the telephone, why cannot we slip the card into the mobile telephone or tap the numbers into the phone so that no one can hear the information that we have to give for the security check?

Internet fraud is on the rise. We have to do more to protect people. One thing that must be done is to ensure that people are far more aware of possible scams.

Order. In the absence of further contributions from the Floor, I remind Members that we must terminate the debate at 11 o’clock. Forty-four minutes remain for debate. We now start the first of the three winding-up speeches. I appeal to the Opposition Front-Bench speakers not to exceed more than a third of that time each.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing this debate, and on representing his constituents so effectively—a role which we all play as Members of Parliament.

For the purposes of this debate, I looked back to my debate on 5 December 2007, which was on the same subject. The Chairman on that occasion, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), took exception to the direction in which I took the debate. I was focusing on the fact that, a couple of days before, we had seen the loss of 25 million family records. I thought at one point, Mr. Cook, when you were leaning forward, that you were about to leap on the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), who was focusing on medical fraud and those who promote or encourage medical tests. I wondered whether you were about to call him to order for taking the debate in a slightly different direction.

I was fortunate in that previous debate to have been well briefed, thanks to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who is chairman of the all-party group on identity fraud. That group’s work has informed all who have taken part in today’s debate.

Hon. Members are familiar with the different types of internet fraud. Phishing has been mentioned, as has identity fraud, spamming and scamming. I would like to add another—spoof websites. I do not know whether other hon. Members have suffered from spoof websites. The one that I have in mind was a local site for Sutton’s Liberal Democrats. When we clicked on the link, we found that the site purported to describe Liberal Democrat policy. Apparently, we were in favour of boiling babies, killing the first born and many other atrocious things. Hon. Members will of course be surprised to find that the organisation behind that site was the local Labour party.

I am certainly not new Labour. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about political fraud. The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), whose debate it is, used the slogan, “If it looks too good to be true, it’s not true.” The problem with that is that it includes virtually every Liberal Democrat “Focus” leaflet I have ever seen.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. When he sought to intervene on me, I am not sure that he intended to make that point—he clearly adjusted his intervention in an effective and immediate way.

One extremely good point raised by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest is that we could all be subject to internet fraud if we are not careful. Other hon. Members will have read the briefing for the debate, and will have been surprised or entertained to find that no less a figure than President Sarkozy had his bank account hacked into and sums withdrawn. He will no doubt be taking legal action over that, and I hope that he is successful. However, I am pleased to find that he was not successful in taking legal action against a firm that had produced a little voodoo doll in his shape. He took offence to that, principally because the manufacturers suggested that a life-size version should be produced.

I must move on to more serious matters. Hon. Members have mentioned different types of internet fraud. The statistics are alarming—we have had some from the US to allow the Obama link to be made, as well as statistics from the UK. The potential for internet fraud is huge. More than 15 million households in the UK have internet access and that is the pool in which phishers and others can work. In 2007, over 50 per cent. of adults purchased goods or services over the internet. A huge number of adults use the internet and the pool of potential victims is enormous. I will come shortly to a quote from a Minister, which I think underlines the scale of the problem.

Positive developments have taken place since I held a debate on this subject last December. Just over a month ago on 1 October, the Government set up the new National Fraud Strategic Authority. Its remit is to ensure that the criminal justice system focuses on the needs of victims. There should be stronger deterrents to fraudsters, greater public confidence in the response to fraud, and individuals and organisations should be given greater capability to protect themselves. In a press release announcing the new strategic authority, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) said:

“Fraud is a crime that is second only to the illegal drugs trade in terms of its impacts on the UK.”

I shall return to that quotation in a few minutes.

The strategic authority has an interim chief executive. I hope that the Minister will say at what point he expects that position to become permanent, as that would give more strength to the organisation. The Government have also set up the police central e-crime unit. That will be operational by spring 2009, and perhaps the Minister will confirm that it is still on track. I know that appointments have been made to it, but it would be useful if he told us exactly how many officers will be based in that unit.

The Minister will be familiar with concerns that have been expressed about the level of funding available for the unit. We should bear in mind what the then Under-Secretary said about fraud as a crime being second only to illegal drugs, and hon. Members will have seen quotations from various other organisations. Gareth Elliott, policy adviser at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that establishing the police central e-crime unit was

“a step in the right direction but £7 million does not seem like very much compared to the cost of cybercrime.”

My point is about businesses and the issue of responsibility that was raised by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). A survey revealed that one in five employees share computer passwords and 63 per cent. of businesses do not restrict access to any website among their employees. That goes back to the point about the responsibility of the businesses themselves.

All individuals and businesses have a huge responsibility. I cannot say that I have never allowed someone else to use my login. It happens, and we should try to stop it happening, but we are probably all guilty of not enforcing the right protective measures at some point. As someone who worked for 13 years in the computer industry before being elected, I should know better than most about the importance of maintaining appropriate levels of security. Concerns have been raised about how many resources will go into that unit, and perhaps the Minister could tell us precisely what level the fraud will be reduced by. Has the organisation been set a target that it must meet, and will the proposed £7 million be sufficient for the task? It would be useful to know whether online pharmacies will fall within the remit of the police e-crime unit. Will it have the necessary skills to address that specific and recent development in relation to internet fraud?

As part of the new approach, a national fraud reporting centre and intelligence bureau is being established, and there are similar questions about how many staff will be based in that unit, when consumers can start reporting fraud online and, critically, whether people will be encouraged to report all fraud. Until now, the Home Office has actively encouraged people to report fraud directly to their banks as opposed to the police, and the concern is that the level of fraud may be significantly underreported because banks and other financial institutions do not want people to know how vulnerable they are to that crime. Will the Minister confirm whether people will be encouraged to report all crime to the reporting centre? It may be too early to say, but what can people expect to happen once they have reported a fraud? Is the purpose of the reporting centre to accumulate statistics and identify trends, or is it expected that once fraud has been reported, action will be taken or the matter passed to the relevant police force, so that something concrete will result as a result of the report?

A number of hon. Members have rightly pointed out that business has a responsibility here, as do individuals. It was suggested that financial institutions should take a more proactive approach in writing to their customers, highlighting concerns about fraud and making people aware of the latest scams. Perhaps the broadband companies could also do the same thing. People who use the internet will do so through a fixed line or a mobile phone, and telecommunications companies and those that supply broadband could also communicate with their customers on a regular basis to highlight how internet fraud is developing, what action people could take and what issues they should be aware of or worried about.

I do not want to go over my allotted time, so I shall draw my comments to a conclusion. Clearly, action is being taken, but there are concerns about, for example, whether the £7 million that will be put into the e-crime unit will be sufficient, and whether the unit will be sufficiently resourced to do the job in hand. I hope that the Minister will give us some comfort that it will be able to do the job that it is required to do.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing this debate. It is timely, because there is insufficient awareness of the matters involved, not simply by the public, but by business and the Government. We shall make a difference only if all three aspects are properly addressed.

A report for the Association of Chief Police Officers estimates that all types of fraud costs the UK economy at least £14 billion and adds that it would be surprising if the true total was not higher. A separate US study estimates that the annual cost of internet fraud to the global economy amounts to $1 trillion. The threat is rising. Eight out of 10 major businesses were targeted by cybercriminals last year, and according to the police, e-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of crime in this country. One journal has even described cybercrime as “the new drugs.”

A survey for the Government's getsafeonline.org internet safety website suggests that the public feel much more at risk of being a victim of online crime than of being robbed on the street, having something stolen from their car, or having their house burgled. According to the Association for Payment Clearing Services, internet and e-commerce fraud on credit cards was £223.8 million in 2007, which was up by 45 per cent. on the previous year. The number of bogus websites purporting to be those of genuine banks or financial institutions to entrap unwary customers is growing exponentially, and in 2005, according to APACS, there were 1,713. Last year there were 25,797, which shows the scale of the growth, which is continuing.

The online identity firm, Garlik, estimates that online financial fraud has grown by 20 per cent. in a year with more than 250,000 incidents in 2007. Business continues to be targeted with more than two thirds of the members of the Corporate IT Forum, which is made up of technology managers at the UK's largest firms, reporting increases in the amount of hi-tech crime committed against them.

We should not kid ourselves that this problem emanates from overseas. According to the US Internet Crime Complaint Center—IC3—the UK is the second biggest source of cybercrime behind the US, accounting for one fifth of all cybercrime, and as technology continues to change, the threats continue to change. A recent report on a new Trojan virus suggested that it had compromised more than 270,000 bank accounts and 240,000 credit and debit cards in the US, Australia and Poland, using a clandestine drive-by-download approach, which would not alert the user.

Some malicious software is even being offered to criminal networks on the internet with “non-detection warranties.” We are seeing the development of an online black market with criminals buying illegal data from third parties on online data supermarkets, as well as sharing that malicious software. Cybercriminals are becoming much more organised in their approach with the Internet Security Forum suggesting that raids in the virtual world to steal personal information and customer data for financial gain and fraud are being planned like bank raids in the real world. The development of more targeted and specific, unsolicited e-mail phishing attacks incorporating stolen information on the recipient to give the fraud the air of legitimacy, and duping people who would not otherwise have agreed to confirm their banking details following a bogus request are also increasing. They even have their own title—spear phishing.

In its report, “Personal Internet Security” the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology described the Government as having their “heads in the sand” over cybercrime. A senior police officer noted recently that British politicians

“don't seem to have an appropriate sense of fear”

about cybercrime, adding that

“we need to terrify, encourage or excite them.”

Although there has been some slow movement by the Government since then, business is still not impressed, with 57 per cent. of technology managers at the UK's largest firms saying that they did not believe that the police would deal with hi-tech crime properly. David Roberts, head of the Corporate IT Forum, said:

“IT chiefs in UK PLCs don't think the government appreciates the scale of the cybercrime threat, the seriousness of the threat or how much it is costing.”

He added:

“Business confidence in the Government's ability to help them fight cybercrime is at rock-bottom.”

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s approach, whether to identity fraud, internet fraud or the level of resources, is matched by their repeated failure to look after data properly?

The data issue is relevant, and I shall address it further and in more detail.

The online payment company, CyberSource, notes in its fourth annual UK online fraud report that

“the lack of interest from the police cited by many merchants seems to be encouraging fraudsters to be ever more bold. In many cases they will place orders with stolen credit cards and then wait outside the victim's house to collect the goods.”

However, I welcome the Government's decision to adopt our policy of creating a special cybercrime policing unit. The new police central e-crime unit, headed by Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, is an important step forward, and I want to put on the record my recognition of his work over a number of years to highlight the issue and to develop strategies to combat online fraud. We should be under no illusion that the PCECU is a panacea; it is just one part of the solution. As we have heard, there are questions about how it is being resourced and what capabilities it will have, but it is an admission by the Government that they were completely and fundamentally wrong to get rid of the national hi-tech crime unit in the first place. The Government must do much more to deal with the growing threat.

I continue to be struck by the lack of any real urgency, priority or apparent willingness to obtain proper data on the true scale and nature of the problem, or to ensure that, once obtained, the information received is properly categorised, catalogued and analysed. Police databases do not currently distinguish between whether frauds are committed electronically or not, nor do Home Office and prosecution figures, so we do not even know how many criminals are being brought to justice for such offences.

We have made it harder for the public to report such crime and to provide the intelligence necessary to allow a strategic response to identified patterns of threat. The transfer of responsibility for receiving reports of online financial fraud from the police to the banks, which was introduced last April, was a mistake. What sort of message does it send to the public if, having reported an internet banking scam to the police, they are simply told to get in touch with the bank first? At best, it sends out a confusing message about the importance attached to cyberfraud. At worst, it suggests that the Home Office either cannot cope or cannot be bothered with such crime. It also builds even more inertia into a system already in desperate need of a jolt. If a report is received, the bank decides whether that information is reported to the police. It is then at the police's discretion to decide whether that report is recorded and, if it is recorded, whether anything is done about it. We must see what impact the new National Fraud Reporting Centre will have in bridging that gap.

However, the threats are not limited to domestic criminals; there are also sophisticated international criminal networks. It is therefore obvious that we need to work with our partners abroad. I welcome the lead taken by the FBI in Operation Botroast to combat illegal botnets, which are used to carry out mass spam and other attacks. It has also infiltrated criminal networks that buy and sell credit card details and bank log-in information through the DarkMarket website. The Serious Organised Crime Agency, as an FBI partner, played a role in that operation. However, international co-operation is not working as effectively as it should at all levels. As we heard, the British Government signed the European cybercrime convention in 2001 but, seven years on, ratification has still not taken place. Will the Minister confirm when ratification will be complete?

We have heard about data and, indeed, many frauds are now perpetrated using illicit information obtained through clandestine means. Business, all agencies and Government therefore need to raise their game. Certainly, on data security, the Government’s record, to say the very least, is pretty poor. We are obviously all aware of the loss of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs records, but in the past year, according to reports filed by different Departments, the Government lost the records of 30 million people. Recent information disclosed that almost one public servant is dismissed or disciplined every single day for data breaches and inappropriate use of personal information. That matters, because if the information gets into the hands of criminal networks, they will use it to perpetrate fraud on the unwary and unsuspecting, and to cause damage not only to individuals, but to confidence in the internet as a trade and business platform.

The public need better information and advice on how to take active measures to protect themselves. If they should fall victim of an e-crime, they need to be confident both that there is a clear way of ensuring that the information is reported, and that it will be acted upon. We called for the establishment of a fraud and cybercrime complaints centre, linked to an online safety and advice portal that works with industry, to draw together best practice and advice and provide the most up-to-date information. Of course we have getsafeonline.org, but it is not a dynamic portal. It is not updated on a regular basis using the information that comes through on emerging threats. It needs to be much more dynamic in that regard: it needs to be co-ordinated with reporting and policing, and in terms of getting information to the public.

The public need to know that their personal information will not be compromised and that they can take steps to protect themselves against identity fraud and the risk of other frauds that come from it. That is why we would impose legal obligations on financial services companies to report data breaches to the Information Commissioner and, if required by him, to notify their customers so that they can take steps to protect themselves. I also believe that education and awareness of the potential risks in the online environment need to be enhanced. That is why we would promote cyber safety and security as a core part of all information and communications technology training in schools and colleges in this country.

The Government need to raise their game on data security and to set an example. They are not doing that well enough at the moment. That is why we would create an offence of reckless handling of personal data by Government, making it a criminal offence for a Crown servant or Government contractor to lose personal data from their control. It is also why we would scrap the approach of creating ever-bigger databases that, rather than protect us, put us at greater risk of falling victim to fraud-type crimes. Storing all that data in one place produces a kind of honeypot effect. It attracts criminals who would use the information, which will have an impact if the data leaches away.

This country urgently needs to up its game. As CyberSource noted:

“As long as criminals believe they can get away with committing fraud against online merchants, the problem will continue to grow to a point where it may challenge the competitiveness of the on-line model”.

If the Government do not take cybercrime seriously, it would simply reinforce in the minds of the criminal gangs the idea that this country is a soft touch. If they think that, we are all more likely to be the next victim of internet fraud.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing this debate and drawing our attention to this important issue. He has achieved at least his first objective of raising awareness of the matter. I am sure that all hon. Members are extremely sorry to hear about his constituent who was a victim of such distressing fraud. Unfortunately, the case that he recounted is serious but not unique. I also appreciate the comments of other hon. Members. They bring a great deal of knowledge and understanding to this important matter. Perhaps until the last contribution, there was a recognition that the problem is complex and that it will take more than Government to tackle it. The internet provides many valuable opportunities and benefits for law-abiding businesses and individuals but, unfortunately, some will always seek to exploit new technologies for criminal ends.

I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman would raise health-related issues, and I should like to respond briefly and generally to the points that he made. We want people to be able to order medicines from legitimate online providers. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has introduced a local scheme for registered sites, and purchasers should look for the logo when buying their medicines. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency carries out enforcement action against illegal and unauthorised sites that operate in the UK, and works with international partners to tackle the threat to the health of the public. I shall go away and consider the points that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) made and write to them—the latter took the point to another level altogether.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of an awareness campaign. We have awareness campaigns across Government, and I shall give some examples and say what we are already doing later. As I said, I will take his ideas on the matter away and consider them.

The story of how the crimes come about has been recounted by many people. E-mail provides criminals with the opportunity to target many thousands of people in the hope that some of them—it takes only a small minority—fall victim to promises of unexpected entitlements or prizes, such as foreign lottery wins. The fraudster often maintains that before the prize or entitlement can be released, the victim must pay a series of charges. Sometimes, fraudsters claim that they are demanding Government-imposed levies, such as a customs fee from HMRC or money for an anti-terrorism certificate from the Home Office. As in the unfortunate case we have heard about, they produce professional-looking letters that purport to come from Departments in an attempt to convince the intended victim that they are genuine.

Victims often become embroiled and lose a great deal of money before the scam becomes apparent. Worse, they may also find that they are at risk of identity theft if they have provided personal financial details to the fraudster.

We have spoken about the fact internet fraud is one of the fastest-growing crimes, not only in the UK, but the world. However, there could be an element of under-reporting to the police, because some people who have been victims of scams, when they come to their senses, think, “How stupid I have been.” They are embarrassed to report the crime to the police. Does the Minister accept that every victim should put their embarrassment to one side and report crimes so that the police at least have more leads as they try to tackle them?

That is a fair and important point. It reflects the subtle nature of fraud crimes. Somehow, people feel that they have brought it upon themselves and are reluctant to report it. People have been reluctant to report other crimes, but when they realise that there are sanctions available, that action will be taken and that the Government and others are interested, they get increased confidence and come forward. Our obligation is to demonstrate that those things are in place.

One thing that complicates matters for the Government is that many frauds are committed by criminals resident outside the UK. That presents difficulties of identification and investigation for law enforcement, and often means that victims are unlikely to get back their money. The Office of Fair Trading formed its scambusters team to address mass-marketing fraud. It cannot investigate individual cases or get money back for consumers, but, by working with other organisations, it can disrupt fraudsters and shut down their operations. The OFT’s Scams Enforcement Group brings together a number of law enforcement agencies, including trading standards and other partners, and focuses on law enforcement, consumer education and disruption of scammers’ routes to market.

The OFT also runs a scams awareness week every year. I shall refer to other awareness weeks later in my remarks, but I want to say now that it alarms me that someone as knowledgeable as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is not aware of that. That is not a criticism of him, but of the way in which the event is run. I will take that point away with me and consider it further.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) mentioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigerian law enforcement agency. I want to confirm that we work closely with law enforcement agencies in different countries, including the EFCC. A number of hon. Members inquired about the convention. I can confirm that we will begin the formal parliamentary process to ratify it by the end of this month, with full ratification, subject to parliamentary approval, by the end of January 2009.

For the benefit of hon. Members, will the Minister explain why there has been such a long delay? Have there been specific issues that the Government have had to address? What is the reason for the length of time it has taken?

When Government seek to sign up to treaties such as this, there are always a number of complex issues. I do not know the exact answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will consider the matter and contact him later.

Advance fee fraud is just one form of fraud that can be enabled by the internet. Criminals often use the internet to carry out card-not-present fraud. They use stolen card details to purchase goods or services over the internet, and they also commit online banking fraud through the sending of e-mails that attempt to trick online banking customers into releasing personal financial details. I want to confirm to hon. Members that the Government take such fraud very seriously because it is a serious criminal matter. However, it is a notoriously difficult area in which to gather information. Robust pieces of research suggest the level of that fraud. A recently published report commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers suggested that, overall, fraud cost a minimum of £13.9 billion per annum. The OFT estimated that in 2006 UK customers lost around £3.5 billion to scams. The most recent annual card fraud figures published by the payments industry showed that total card fraud losses in 2007 amounted to just over half a billion pounds. Behind those figures is a victim facing a loss. At the minimum, they face distress and inconvenience and, in some cases, they face financial and personal ruin.

The Government have allocated £29 million over three years to implement the national fraud programme. That includes the creation of a National Fraud Strategic Authority, which was launched earlier this month. The authority will provide a strategic focus and mechanism for counter-fraud activity. It will develop and co-ordinate the delivery of a national fraud strategy, engaging stakeholders from across the economy. I was asked about the appointment of a chief executive. I can tell hon. Members that interviews will be held shortly, and we hope to make the appointment by the end of this year. The work of the National Fraud Strategic Authority is also overseen by a cross-departmental ministerial group, which I chair jointly with the Attorney-General.

The national fraud programme also includes additional funding for City of London police to take on a new national lead force role, offering assistance to other forces and establishing a centre of excellence to co-ordinate training and best practice. That expands the City’s lead force status for fraud in the south-east, for which the force has received additional funding from the Government and the Corporation of London since 2004-05.

A national fraud reporting centre, expected to go live in 2009, will also be established. It will radically streamline the way in which the public report fraud—including fraud committed over the internet—to the police. A promise that the police will investigate every fraud reported to the centre would probably be way beyond the resources of any law enforcement agency anywhere in the world. None the less, the centre will provide a powerful intelligence tool to law enforcement agencies that will help them to target available resources in areas in which they have the best chance of success. It will also help to form the basis of better prevention advice and alerts to fraud threats for business and the public.

The Minister may not be able to deal with this matter immediately, but if people report fraud to this centre, they will be concerned if they do not see any action. Will the Minister make it clear what people will be entitled to if they have made a report to this centre?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is pertinent not just to this debate but to policing in general. We are working with police forces to consider ways in which we deal with crime in general. We are looking at what the public can expect by way of standards and follow-up when they engage with police forces. I caution anyone against thinking that simply because they report a fraud there will necessarily be some action and a result at the end. I am sure that the authorities will do everything that they can, but I do not want to hold out false promise. The standard of service that people can expect is a fair point to make.

In addition to the national fraud programme, and in recognition that fraud committed through the internet requires specialist attention, we are also setting up the police central e-crime unit, which will be based in the Metropolitan police, to tackle electronic crime, and specifically fraud. The unit will act as the central unit for the police on promotion of standards for training, procedure and response to e-crime. It will bring together forces, the National Policing Improvement Agency and other groups to develop training and to co-ordinate activity to build up the skill levels within policing. There has been criticism about the amount of money that has been put into the unit. Let me explain to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) that this is not the only unit that will be seeking to tackle fraud. The important thing is that the unit will be working with other police forces that have a funded capability. The figure that the hon. Gentleman quotes is not the end of the story. We are working on our targets, but it is a bit rich to ask where the targets will be when we are under a great deal of pressure not to have targets. Of course we want the unit to succeed and we will be working with it to ensure that it does. We are looking to recruit staff at present. As they will be specialised, I cannot give any numbers.

Clearly, the initial amount of money may not be enough, and the Government may need to look at that again. Will the Minister say something about the responsibility of the financial institutions themselves because they need to do a lot more to protect their customers?

In many respects, the Government agree with the recognition by the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee that the problems facing us in making the internet safe cannot be addressed by Government, or any other group, alone. That is why we seek to bring together lots of different agencies and the industry. The industry has a responsibility as well. A joint get safe online week takes place and is supported by both the Government and the industry. We work closely with industry to identify ways of preventing fraud. Something that is not well known is that the Home Office works with industry on designing out crime. We work with a range of designers to see how we, and other areas in industry, can learn the lessons. I am sure that there is greater scope for more work in that regard.