Vertical Markets

Crime fell by two-thirds in 2000s

by Mark Rowe

If you worked in retail and wholesale in the 2000s, did you notice that crime fell by two-thirds? Because it did, according to Government statisticians.

There were around 14.5 million fewer crimes against wholesale and retail business premises in 2012 than in 2002 (down from a total of around 21.5 million to around seven million). This is according to the Home Office’s report ‘Crime against businesses: detailed findings from the 2012 Commercial Victimisation Survey’. The CVS for short covered four industry sectors: wholesale and retail; transport and stores; hotels and food; and factories. What to make of the marked fall in crime according to the CVS? Almost half of all crimes picked up by the CVS (4.1 million) were thefts by customers against wholesale and retail premises (in other words, shop theft). Yet police recorded shoplifting offences, which were much the same in 2002-3 and 2011-12, at 310,881 offences in 2002-3 to 308,322 offences in 2011-12. The researchers spoke of ‘a general trend towards less reporting [to police] of crimes between 2002 and 2012’. Larger businesses are most likely to report crimes to police. The survey puts this down to ‘increasing use of private security firms within the retail sector, and a move towards dealing with incidents themselves rather than involving the police’ rather than any lack of interest by the police in dealing with business crime.

Thefts by customers

Thefts by customers made up almost half of all incidents of crime across the four sectors (47pc), and were experienced by about one in seven, 14pc of all businesses. The vast majority (94pc) of these customer thefts came in wholesale and retail. The average cost of a customer theft was put at £35, compared with the average cost of a theft by an employee of £107, though either could run to tens of thousands of pounds. Across all sectors surveyed, 81pc of thefts by customers were on weekdays. And while there are indeed five weekdays and only two weekend days, and some shops are shut on a Sunday, the stats suggest you’re more likely to be a customer theft victim was higher on a weekday. This contrasts with burglaries, where only three in five (60pc) took place during the week, and reflects the different nature of the two offences. As the researchers point out, thieves are less likely to burgle a shop when it is open and a customer cannot steal when premises are shut and locked (otherwise, it would be classed as a burglary). Around 60pc of thefts by customers took place of an afternoon (noon to 6pm), and again this was driven by the wholesale and retail sector where 64pc of thefts were after noon. In the other three sectors (such as pubs and buses) combined thefts by customers were more evenly spread between morning (26pc), afternoon (31pc) and night (27pc).

There were 9.2 million crimes against business premises in four sectors in 12 months according to the survey. Theft accounts for a similar proportion of total crime in 2012 as it did in 2002; around four out of five crimes reported in both surveys were thefts. As for burglary with entry, goods or stock were most commonly reported stolen (in 37pc of incidents). Similarly, goods or stock were also the most common items stolen in thefts by customers (88 per cent of cases), largely in wholesale and retail. Business premises in urban areas saw an almost three times greater rate of crime than rural areas. There were 15,500 incidents of crime per 1,000 premises in urban areas compared with 5,600 in rural areas. Around three quarters (76pc) of premises surveyed had burglar alarms installed. This proportion was higher for larger premises. About as many (73pc) of premises had window and door protection, most commonly bars, gates, grilles or shatterproof glass. What can we learn about how burglars get in? Businesses reported half the time that entry was through a door (53pc), followed by a wooden or glass door (36pc), or a metal door, roller door or shutter (17pc) or a window (16pc).

As for where crime happens, the survey found that premises more than a 15-minute walk from the nearest pub, club, bar or hotel saw far lower rates of crime (3,700 per 1,000 premises) compared with those next to a pub, club, bar or hotel (20,400). As most of those crimes were thefts, the researchers admit it could be that the premises are simply in (higher-crime) towns and cities; or the effects of alcohol could have an effect.

The most expensive losses were after theft of vehicles, which cost £5,000 on average. Burglary with entry led to average costs at £1,000 after an incident. As for non-property crimes, one in ten premises (more in the hotel and food sector – 15pc) reported that their employees had been a victim of assaults or threats in the previous 12 months. As for robbery, most robberies (and attempts) did not involve a weapon. But of the three in ten that did, the weapon was most likely a knife, knife, or a baseball bat or piece of piping, rather than a gun or imitation gun.

About one in seven premises (15pc) had been victims of vandalism (defined as deliberate damage) in the previous 12 months. The most common sort of vandalism was damage to buildings, as reported by almost two-thirds (64pc), though it could also be damage to equipment, such as CCTV, signs or fences.

About the survey

Briefly, the CVS is a telephone survey . A sample of business premises in the four business sectors in England and Wales were asked about crimes at their premises in the previous 12 months. The four sectors: manufacturing, wholesale and retail, transportation and storage, and accommodation and food. In total 4,017 interviews were carried out across the sectors, with around 1,000 in each.

As with any statistics, however, they only cover so much. The stats suggest for instance that premises with security measures on their premises suffer more crime than those without. Does that mean intruder alarms or shutters on windows attract criminals?! Or that security is there because of the obvious risks? Or that businesses install security after they’ve been a victim of crime? The survey did not ask. The more remote your premises are, the better, it seems. Premises in a town, city or shopping centre were more likely to be a victim of crime than those in a retail park. And branches of a franchised chain were almost twice as likely as independent businesses to have been victims of crime in the last year.

Likewise one in ten (9pc) of premises without someone controlling entry reported an assault or a threat. About the same (10pc) of premises with a receptionist reported an assault or theft, and a fifth (20pc) of premises with security guards. Does that mean having a doorman or security officer somehow brings on attacks? Or, that the human door control is there, because of a known risk at a pub or club? The numbers do not tell us.

Almost half (46pc) of premises covered by the survey had suffered at least one of the main crime types covered by the survey. One in ten premises had been a victim of any type of fraud. In around three-quarters (73pc) of cases what the surveyers termed ‘disciplinary action’ was taken against the employee doing a fraud. The researchers admitted they were likely to underestimate fraud, as it might go unnoticed, whereas vandalism would not. Also, as the survey picked up, few businesses bother to report frauds to the authorities. Only 4pc of fraud by persons unknown (such as by credit card or cheque) was reported to Action Fraud, the recently rolled-out national reporting centre. Nine in ten (89pc) of all victims said that they were not aware of Action Fraud and another 7pc said that they were but had not reported the incident anyway.

While the survey did include online banking fraud, it did not ask about cyber-crimes, the Home Office cannot say how such crime has changed, or how much of it there is. Ross Brewer, vice president and managing director for international markets, LogRhythm , said: “There are few things in life we can be absolutely sure of, but one of them is the fact that the number of cyber attacks aimed at UK businesses is on the rise. Sadly, this is a fact that has been completely overlooked in the Home Office’s report. Savvy criminals have realised that stealing cash from an organisation’s safe is neither as lucrative nor effective as taking the information to access online bank accounts, so there is little point in talking up the reduction in the number of burglaries or shoplifting incidents, when hackers are routinely compromising corporate networks.

“As hackers develop new and more sophisticated techniques, and cyber attacks become increasingly regular, every single organisation should be aware of the threat, in order to adequately defend themselves. Part of the problem is the fact that businesses are often unaware of the fact that they are being breached, or realise too far down the line, and therefore fail to report the attack. This is largely due to the fact that many only have reactive security solutions in place, such as firewalls, but these tools no longer provide enough insight or protection to deal with the threats that are faced today. In short, visibility and proactive monitoring have become the new burglar alarm.

“If more organisations were able to consistently identify and report on breaches, then perhaps the Home Office will see that, in fact, crime against businesses has not fallen – just changed in nature. Without including cyber crime in these reports, the problem is simply being perpetuated and we may as well hang-up our defence boots now.”

Likewise Daniel Beazer, director of strategy at secure cloud hosting company, FireHost, said: “Of course if you count out the largest new market for crimes that has appeared in the last twenty years you are going to produce some rosy crime statistics, showing nice 50 per cent-plus drops. However, a report on crime which doesn’t include cybercrime is like a sports study which chooses to ignore football.

“And even if the survey had featured cyber attacks, it still probably wouldn’t show a true picture. Crime surveys and statistics by definition only cover reported crime, and most go unreported. All the more so with cybercrime. If a major retail bank’s ecommerce site has been DDOS’d, or its customers details stolen by a SQL injection, generally we don’t hear about it, for obvious commercial reasons. This is one reason why business is lobbying so hard against the EU’s plans for proactive breach notification of personal data.

“If having more burglar alarms makes a business feel more secure, bully for them. However, we need to balance this by making it clear that IT security is of greater importance than ever, and to a larger proportion of businesses than at any other time. It’s not that we should dramatise the cyber threat, nor should we downplay the possibility of attack of course, we just can’t continue to separate physical acts of crime from felonies perpetrated online. It may make for cosy reading to say that the crime rate is down but does that really benefit anyone?

“We can’t have cybercrime relegated; the costs of online attacks are just as great and actually far more likely. Unthinking attitudes to cybercrime, as reflected in documents such as these, could have businesses neglecting to take the necessary precautions online. Government reports such as this one should endeavour to make its readers more, not less vigilant and unfortunately this one could have the exact opposite effect.”

Link to the survey –

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