Gangs targeting autistic gamers in bid to recruit new cyber-criminals, police warn

Teenagers have been warned not to find themselves recruited into organised crime groups from their bedrooms after it was revealed more than four in five cyber criminals are gamers.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for cyber crime said 82 per cent of youngsters being enlisted by online criminals develop skills on video games, with many of those targeted on the autistic spectrum. 

Announcing a multimillion-pound cash injection into cyber crime prevention on Thursday, Derbyshire Constabulary chief constable Peter Goodman said forces across the UK want to engage with the targeted teenagers, many of whom he said were “on the autistic spectrum”.

Police also revealed that children in their early teens could be sent warnings about their activities if they are embracing particular methods of cheating at video games, such as by knocking other players offline.

Officers said these types of activities could often escalate into full-blown hacking and computer fraud offences.  

Asked if police were engaging with gamers on headsets and looking to place adverts in games to warn of potential risks, West Midlands Police chief superintendent Chris Todd said officers needed to take such creative steps.

“When you look at the individuals that are involved in that, the people we arrest, those who have that top end cyber capability, that develop some capability themselves, 82 per cent of them are gamers” he said.

“So there’s a whole network of people we can engage with more in order to divert people away from cyber crime.”

Mr Goodman added: “If you go to certain sites as a gamer and you are looking for opportunities to cheat online, if you are of a certain age profile, you will have a message pop up from the National Crime Agency on the screen which will say ‘Do you know what you’re about to do is probably illegal? It’s a Computer Misuse Act offence. 

“What I will say is, these are very skilled, very talented individuals that the UK needs in their economy working effectively within legitimate organisations.

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“The narrative you get from them and their parents is … many of them are on the autistic spectrum. They find it very hard to have any credibility, any confidence, any traction in the real world.

“We say don’t stop developing your skills, but stop committing crime.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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