More than a fifth of sexual offences committed online, report claims

The internet was used to commit at least a fifth of all sexual crimes recorded in Scotland last year, a new report on cyber crime has estimated.

The study, published by the Scottish Government, also revealed a number of gaps in knowledge about hi-tech crime.

It found "evidence that cyber-crime is under-reported to the police and other authorities" with Police Scotland only dealing with 30 incidents of computer misuse - which covers hacking and virus attacks - in 2016-17, according to recorded crime data.

The report said: "Figures from the victimisation surveys are consistently higher than in police data, most notably for instances of fraud, computer misuse, abusive/threatening behaviour and stalking and harassment, suggesting these occurrences are often not being reported to the police."

The review also found that "incidents of cyber crime tend be concentrated around sexual crimes, fraud and computer misuse".

It warned that a number of other different types of crime involved the internet and other cyber technologies "either as a precursor to a crime or in the committing of a crime itself".

Cyber technology has impacted "both the scale and nature of sexual crime in Scotland", the report found.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (Jane Barlow/PA)
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (Jane Barlow/PA)

It estimated: "The internet was used as a means to commit at least 20% of all sexual crimes recorded by the police in Scotland in 2016-17."

However, it identified gaps in knowledge on the scale of the problem, saying: "We still need to know more about cyber crime in Scotland, such as the prevalence of different types of cyber crime, the extent of under-reporting, the cost and the harm of cyber crime.

"Furthermore, little evidence is available which allows for the comparison between cyber and non-cyber incidents of the same crime.

"This review has also drawn attention to gaps around cyber-crime offenders, in particular the extent to which different kinds of individuals and groups account for cyber-crime offences in Scotland. "

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "This report shows how the internet and new technologies can impact on the scale and nature of criminal activity across Scotland.

"While fraud, online sexual crimes and computer misuse such as hacking might be the most obvious examples of cyber crime, we must remain vigilant at all times while online.

"The Policing 2026 strategy acknowledged the need to respond to new challenges in crime and Police Scotland are committed to recruiting more civilian cyber specialists to ensure they have the right mix of skills in place to counter the threat posed by cyber crime."