Online fraud losses experienced by UK consumers could be higher than previously realised, with at least one in ten losing money as a result of in the last two years, a survey by the University of Kent has suggested.

In the Centre for Cyber Security’s initial survey of 1,500 people using Google Customer Surveys, 11.6 percent reported computer fraud losses in excess of more than £65 ($100), although the majority of the rest lost only trivial amounts.

Running a second survey focussing more closely on the losses experienced in the last year, the researchers recorded lower levels of online crime - around 8 percent - but gained insight on the sometimes startling losses experienced by a small minority of users.

Although 1.5 percent believed these were between £101 and £1,000, an astonishing 2.3 percent put the figure at £10,000 or above. This either suggests that the finding is a statistical outlier or far more Britons are on receiving end of serious digital crimes than has hitherto been realised.

The most often-quoted figures for online UK crime losses come from banking industry bodies such as Financial Fraud Action UK (formerly the Association for Payment Clearing Services, APACS), and these have for a few years reported that fraud losses are falling.

Equally, these look at the issue from the point of view of banks, and only measure one type of crime, that against online banks. Based on a web survey of modest size, the University of Kent numbers are inherently less reliable but do at least attempt to measure misery from the consumer end of the problem.

Independent firms such as Datamonitor have looked card not present (CNP) fraud, the bane of Internet firms, and found an improving situation, albeit from high levels experienced around 2008.

“It seems that online crime has a clear impact on the lives of average UK citizens, with their accounts and credentials being compromised significantly and in some cases multiple times,” the University of Kent researchers concluded.  

“This and other incidents online translate into financial losses that, despite not affecting large numbers of people, have quite a large impact on the few (around 3% of the population) that are very badly hit.”

A further survey by the researchers found that  one in five people (or 18.4 percent) said they experienced an online account break-in, covering a wider range of services including email, banking, social media, and gaming.

There also seemed to an age dimension to this issue with 27.3 percent having experienced online break-in, compared to 11.4 percent in the 55-64 age group. This finding was most likely a function of greater use of such services among younger people.