New Fraud Bill covering technology offences published

United Kingdom

In April the Government published the new Fraud Bill. The Bill’s aim is to make phishing attacks and online credit card fraud a thing of the past by updating the law relating to fraud in light of technological advancement. Under the existing law of fraud, criminals were able to escape liability easily by arguing that their crimes did not fit within the outdated narrow definitions in the existing legislation. Under the Bill, Internet fraudsters and phishers could be subject to ten year prison sentences.

The new Bill creates a general offence of fraud which can be committed by false representation, failing to disclose information and abuse of position. New offences for obtaining services dishonestly and possessing, making and supplying articles for use in fraud have also been created. The Bill has been specifically drafted to catch illegal activities which involve the use of technology.

“Phishing” will be caught by the offence of fraud by false representation. A “phisher” sends an email to his victim which falsely represents that the email has been sent by a bank or credit card company, prompting the reader to confirm/provide personal information such as account numbers. The phisher then uses that information to “phish” any money out of the account. The offence will also apply to a person who dishonestly uses a stolen credit card online to pay for items. That person, by his conduct, is making a false representation that he has the authority to use the card and is committing an act of fraud, regardless of whether an online retailer is deceived by the representation.

The Bill includes the crime of “fraud by abuse of position”. The term “abuse” is not defined and the explanatory notes make it clear that it is intended to cover a wide range of conduct. This may have a number of applications in relation to technology related crime. For example, it could apply to an employee of a software company who uses his position to copy software products with the intention of selling the copied products as original copies.

The definition of “Article” in the crime of “possession, making and supplying articles for use in fraud” has been defined widely. The definition includes programs/data held in electronic form, covering those in possession (or the makers or suppliers) of computer programs used to generate credit card numbers or produce blank utility bills, and computer files that store data for fraudulent use.

Finally, the Bill has created an offence of “obtaining services dishonestly”. This offence replaces and is wider than the current offence of obtaining services by deception and, as a result, “deception” is no longer required. The scope of the offence will now include activities such as obtaining services over the Internet using false credit card details and using a decoder to obtain satellite TV channels without paying.

With identity theft and credit card scams becoming a growing concern, the new legislation is welcomed and, in theory, should result in a considerable increase in prosecutions for technology related crimes.

This article first appeared in our Technology Annual Review, March 2006. To view this publication, please click here to open a new window.