Empty Streets, Busy Internet: A Time-Series Analysis of Cybercrime and Fraud Trends During COVID-19

Date01 November 2021
Published date01 November 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2021, Vol. 37(4) 480 –501
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862211027986
Empty Streets, Busy Internet:
A Time-Series Analysis of
Cybercrime and Fraud Trends
During COVID-19
Steven Kemp1,2,3, David Buil-Gil3,
Asier Moneva4,5, Fernando Miró-Llinares2,
and Nacho Díaz-Castaño2
The unprecedented changes in routine activities brought about by COVID-19 and
the associated lockdown measures contributed to a reduction in opportunities for
predatory crimes in outdoor physical spaces, while people spent more time connected
to the internet, and opportunities for cybercrime and fraud increased. This article
applies time-series analysis to historical data on cybercrime and fraud reported to
Action Fraud in the United Kingdom to examine whether any potential increases
are beyond normal crime variability. Furthermore, the discrepancies between fraud
types and individual and organizational victims are analyzed. The results show that
while both total cybercrime and total fraud increased beyond predicted levels, the
changes in victimization were not homogeneous across fraud types and victims. The
implications of these findings on how changes in routine activities during COVID-19
influenced cybercrime and fraud opportunities are discussed in relation to policy,
practice, and academic debate.
crime trends, coronavirus, ARIMA, cybersecurity, victims, crime statistics
1University of Girona, Spain
2Miguel Hernández University of Elche, Spain
3University of Manchester, UK
4Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR), The Netherlands
5Center of Expertise Cyber Security, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Steven Kemp, Faculty of Law, Carrer Universitat de Girona, 12, 17071 Girona, Spain.
Email: steven.kemp@udg.edu
1027986CCJXXX10.1177/10439862211027986Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeKemp et al.
Kemp et al. 481
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, several sources warned of possible
increases in cybercrime and fraud (especially cyber-enabled frauds1). In March 2020,
Europol alerted about new ways in which cybercriminals were benefiting from the
pandemic and associated lockdown measures (Europol, 2020b), and in October 2020,
Europol’s (2020a) Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment stated that “COVID-
19 caused an amplification of existing [cybercrime] problems” (p. 6) and noted an
increase in fraud against businesses “as a result of the global outbreak of COVID-19”
(p. 47). Similarly, Interpol’s (2020) report entitled “Cybercrime: COVID-19 impact,”
published in August 2020, affirmed that there had been “a sharp increase in cyber-
criminal activities” (p. 4) related to the virus. As a preventive measure against such
threats, U.K. law enforcement agencies used Twitter to raise public awareness, devot-
ing 57.2% of their messages to fraud schemes and 16.9% to cybercrime problems
(Nikolovska et al., 2020).
From an opportunity perspective (Newman & Clarke, 2003), it seems obvious to
expect an increase in cybercrime and fraud when more people use the internet and
converge in cyberspace. However, both these umbrella categories encompass a very
diverse range of conducts (e.g., not all frauds are a form of cyber-enabled crime), and
it is unlikely that trends are identical for all types of cybercrime and fraud. Furthermore,
detected fluctuations may be very short term and may simply bounce back to the initial
trend, or they could even be within normal crime variability. In fact, literature on tra-
ditional street crime in the United States, such as serious assaults, indicates that the
relationship between lockdown measures and crime is not always as expected (Ashby,
2020), while preliminary analysis on cybercrime and COVID-19 in the United
Kingdom indicated that individual and organizational victims may not be affected in
the same manner (Buil-Gil et al., 2021b).
In this context, the main aim of this article is to provide further understanding of the
relationship between the changes in daily activities brought about by the COVID-19
pandemic and cybercrime and fraud in the United Kingdom. To this end, the article
begins by describing the changes in routine activities in the United Kingdom and how
these may have influenced cybercrime and fraud opportunities. Subsequently, a brief
overview of the existing literature on the relationship between crime and COVID-19
is provided. Next, the data and the methods are introduced. A detailed description of
the results comprises the penultimate section of the article. Finally, discussion and
conclusions are provided with regard to the implications of the findings for policy,
practice, and academic debate.
COVID-19 and Shifts in Crime Opportunities
COVID-19 and Routine Activities in the United Kingdom
The unprecedented rapid changes in routine activities brought about by COVID-19
and the associated lockdown measures have been evidenced around the globe. In the

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