FALL victim to a keyboard criminal two years ago in Wiltshire and your case could have been taken on by a local bobby or a computer-minded detective.

Anyone really.

The force was one of the last in the country to set up a dedicated cyber crime unit.

That Wiltshire Police now boasts the 12-strong unit is thanks in no small part to former CID detectives Gemma Vinton and Ian Magrath.

The detectives have more than 25 years’ experience between them.

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Both had an interest in cyber-crime. Both could see the force’s approach to investigating the booming crime type needed to change.

“Investigating cyber-enabled crime is technically very difficult,” said Det Sgt Ian Magrath.

“At the time we didn’t have the software to deal with it.”

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Det Sgt Ian Magrath

He wrote the business case for a new unit, secured the funding from police chiefs and at the start of the year the new Digital Investigations and Intelligence Unit was set up on the top floor of a block at Wiltshire Police headquarters in Devizes.

He said: “We’ve quite quickly in a year gone from Det Insp Gemma Vinton and I on day one to the team as you see it today with 12 of us now.

“We investigate cyber-dependent crime: a computer attacking another computer.

“It sounds quite geeky, but it’s things like malware, network intrusions and the theft of data.”

And while many might not understand it, cyber crime is a growing problem.

In the year to December 2018, Action Fraud – the national body set up to record crimes like data hacks – received 3,171 reports of fraud and computer misuse offences from victims in Wiltshire alone.

Nationally it was 306,126.

In Wiltshire, the number of offences reported to Action Fraud has gone up by almost 12 per cent since 2016 alone.

Mr Magrath said: “Cyber-crime is only ever going to grow.

“It’s going to become more and more sophisticated and organised crime groups are going to jump on the bandwagon.

“Why drive drugs down to Swindon when you can sit at home, click a button and create mayhem?”

The type of crimes the DIIU investigates varies widely. In September, the unit hit headlines internationally after its investigation into how photographs from the autopsy of Premier League footballer Emiliano Sala came to be leaked onto the internet resulted in two Wiltshire CCTV firm workers being jailed.

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Christopher Ashford and Sherry Bray outside court in Swindon Picture: PA

But perhaps the more common type of crime probed by the unit is fraud – with the con men working over email rather than face-to-face.

At the end of last year, detectives became aware of criminals targeting schools.

“We had a spate of messages going out to schools, purportedly from the headmaster to the finance manager saying something like ‘I forgot to pay this urgent invoice last night. Can you please transfer £3,500 for school equipment?’” said Mr Magrath.

“Fortunately, we’re not aware of any payments being made. Perhaps as a result of work we’ve been doing, schools are a bit more savvy.”

The criminals, who trawl the web for details about those working for the businesses targeted, are said to have since moved on to electrical engineering firms.

Mr Magrath said: “They will scope a whole load of companies within a certain industry and send them blanket emails.”

In addition to investigating cyber-enabled crime, the DIIU was increasingly helping other teams across the force by mining data held on devices like phones and laptops.

That could help link suspects to crimes more quickly.

He said: “I can think of a dozen or so jobs we’ve done in the last few weeks alone where we’ve gone in with frontline officers - whether it’s been to a sex offender’s house or a drugs warrant where we can see an opportunity and know our colleagues won’t.”