The incidence of fraud crime in Ireland rose by nearly a fifth last year over the previous 12 months, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
In its quarterly crime figures on Monday, the CSO noted incidents of “fraud, deception and related crimes” had grown by 18.4 per cent in 2018 - an additional 1,000 offences compared to 2017.
The data also recorded notable increases in categories such as sexual offences (10.3 per cent), and robberies, extortion and hijacking (11.3 per cent). Controlled drugs offences rose by 9.5 per cent and offences against the Government, justice procedures and organisation of crime by 10.4 per cent.
Rates of other headline crimes dropped - homicide fell by 10.8 per cent, burglaries by 11.5 per cent and criminal damage incidents by 7.2 per cent.
The CSO continues to categorise its crime statistics as “under reservation” due to a lack of confidence in the Garda Pulse system.
This is now subject to a number of separate ongoing quality reviews and “does not currently meet the CSO’s standards for completeness and accuracy”, it said.
“The timeline for the completion of these reviews has been extended on a number of occasions and at present there is no firm completion date.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said work was ongoing between gardaí and the CSO in order to have the "under reservation" categorisation lifted. Progress is being monitored by the Policing Authority, he noted.
Criteria for lifting this classification address several issues including data governance, training, recording procedures and the auditing and monitoring of data quality.
Meanwhile, the apparent rise in fraud and financial crime is difficult to interpret, given the sparse detail available.
Ongoing changes are being made to the Garda Pulse system, with new sub-categories include crimes relating to the use of cheques, insurance claims, internal company fraud and benefit and social welfare fraud being introduced. However, these will not deliver a more detailed picture for some time.
Dr Joe McGrath, UCD lecturer and author of White-Collar Crime in Ireland: Law and Policy said there is disagreement as to why its rates fluctuate.
“It is sometimes claimed that economic prosperity creates more opportunities to commit white-collar crimes while others explain that white-collar crimes are more likely to be committed in recessions when actors struggle to achieve economic goals through lawful means,” he said.
“Prosecutorial policy and resourcing of regulators also play significant roles in whether white-collar crime is channelled through the criminal courts.”
Tom O'Malley, senior law lecturer at NUI Galway, said the rise in fraud offences might be linked to a greater public awareness.
“I think there is a greater willingness now to report to the guards different types of fraud,” he said.
The CSO figures also revealed a continued upward trend in sexual offences.
Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) said the rate had gone up every quarter for the last 18 months but the data could not help distinguish if this was because of a rise in assaults or a rise in the number of those reporting them.
The last quality study carried out in 2002, she said, pointed to an 8 per cent rate in reporting and more up-to-date research is badly required.
“We are seeing a lot more people, hearing from a lot more people, who are dealing with recent rape and abuse,” she said.
“I suppose it’s an indication that people are more inclined to report but again the real gap here is a lack of good statistics.”