The UK Government has announced the final version of its new Fraud Bill, which targets phishing criminals with prison sentences of up to 10 years.
Once it has worked its way through Parliament, the legislation will create a number of new offences as a way of rationalising the confusing and outdated array of existing laws on fraud that date back as far as 1968. These will include "false representation", "possessing articles for use in fraud", and "participating in fraudulent business", all of which will be available for use in future phishing prosecutions.
The legislation will also make these offences extraditable, an essential element in tackling a type of fraud that often crosses borders in an attempt to avoid detection and prosecution. The Bill is now in its "second reading" phase in the House of Lords, and is expected to become law some time in the current session of Parliament which runs until next year.
"This reform is needed to enable prosecutors to get to grips with the increasing abuse of technology, particularly in relation to fake credit cards scams and personal identity theft, which cost millions of pounds every year," commented Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, the Governments most senior law official.
A Law Commission report of 2002, which influenced the legislation, had noted that prosecutors were often confused about which law should be applied to which offence, resulting in complex and lengthy trials. In other examples, it was proving difficult to charge a defendant with having committed a crime when it could not be proved that a specific benefit, such as money, had been gained.
The report concluded: "Fraud needs to be dealt with in a more general offence that targets the nature of the fraudulent behaviour rather than the particular instances of that behaviour in a defined set of circumstances."
The overhaul represents a much-needed rationalisation of the current UK laws, with sentences that will count as tough by current world standards. Equally, the vast majority of phishing-related fraud is not carried out from within the UK, so it will take a worldwide initiative - including speedy extradition - to make an impression on a crime that is evolving faster than it can defined by security companies and legislators alike.
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