Online fraud is now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales and demands an urgent response, the UK’s National Audit Office reported on Friday.

In a statement, the head of the NAO, Amyas Morse said: “For too long, online fraud has been overlooked by government, law enforcement and industry. While the Department (the Home Office) is not solely responsible for reducing and preventing online fraud, it is the only body that can oversee the system and lead change. The launch of the Joint Fraud Taskforce in February 2016 was a positive step, but there is still much work to be done.  At this stage it is hard to judge that the response to online fraud is proportionate, efficient or effective.”

The report finds that although the face of crime is changing, police forces take different approaches to tackling online fraud and for some it is not a priority.

The Home Office, it says, faces a challenge in influencing other partners such as banks and law enforcement bodies to take on responsibility for preventing and reducing fraud.

“In addition, without accurate data, the Department does not know whether its response is sufficient or adequate. Not only is online fraud under-reported, but where data is available, there is a lack of sharing of information between government, industry and law enforcement agencies. There is, for example, no formal requirement for banks to report fraud or share reports with government.”

The NAO points to a need for more consistent messaging from organisations running campaigns to raise awareness of fraud.

It also says “the ways banks work together in responding to scams needs to improve”.

The report finds there is no clear mechanism for identifying, developing and sharing good practice to prevent people becoming victims.

“There is a lack of data on how many fraudsters are prosecuted and judicial outcomes for fraud offences; there are also concerns about the sentences fraudsters receive. Although the government wants the police and judiciary to make greater use of existing laws, the NAO found that stakeholders had mixed views on the adequacy of current legislation. The international and hidden nature of online fraud makes it difficult to pursue and prosecute criminals because of the need for international cooperation and an ability to take action across borders,” it says.

Responding to the NAO’s report, Tom Ironside, Director for Business and Regulation at the British Retail Consortium said:

“The report correctly identifies the scale and complexity of this growing problem including the risks to the retail industry. We welcome the recognition of the need for retailers to be fully integrated into the UK’s response. The BRC’s 2017 crime survey found that fraud costs retailers around £183m in 2015/16, around 53% of which is cyber-enabled. To address this, the retail industry strongly supports a much closer partnership between the Government, law enforcement and industry to tackle online fraud. We look forward to continuing to work with the Home Office and other stakeholders in addressing this challenge for the benefit of retailers and the customers they serve.”

In March, to help mitigate the effects of online fraud and other cyber risks, the BRC launched a cyber security ‘toolkit’ that  aims to provide retailers with practical guidance to reduce their vulnerabilities and to protect both themselves and their customers.