At the start of 2019, the Economic Crime Strategy Board was launched with the Chancellor stating at the time that:
The UK is leading the world in the fight against illicit finance, preventing fraudsters from stealing billions from the public each year. We know more can be done...”.
See our related blog Working in partnership: a new public/private approach to tackle economic crime.
A passive approach to targeting fraudsters
The Chancellor’s remarks were back up by a report (“the Report”) published this week by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (“HMICFRS”). This concluded that victims of fraud are not receiving the level of service they deserve so clearly more can be done. The Report makes 15 recommendations for a range of organisations including the Board itself, the National Police Chief’s Council (“NPCC”) Coordinator for Economic Crime, the College of Policing and the Director General of the National Crime Agency.
The Report concludes that there are significant problems in the way that fraud is currently investigated, and describes “unacceptably wide variations in the quality of case handling and prioritisation” alongside unnecessary delays and a passive rather than proactive approach to targeting fraudsters. Further, the Report concluded that roles and responsibilities are not clear.
The Report acknowledges that there are pockets of good prevention work but “pockets” are not sufficient. Existing organisational structures are not working well, focus on investigation and prosecution not prevention. As with many areas, the budget has not increased to meet the increasing reports. There is not a coordinated national approach with shared intelligence.
Fraud: it does not bang, bleed or shout.
The report quotes one officer who said simply “fraud does not bang, bleed or shout”. But people are more likely to be victims of fraud than any other crime. The ONS Crime Survey for the year ending June 2018 estimated that there were 3.3 million incidents of fraud, almost a third of all crime, with only 0.6 million of these incidents of fraud reported to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The impact of fraud can be huge – from loss of life savings to permanent psychological and emotional damage.
What should I do if I am a victim of fraud
There are a range of powers to disrupt criminal activity and recover or freeze assets. The Report did not find much evidence that they were being used in fraud cases.
What you should do depends on what result you want. If you are the victim of fraud your main concern may be recovering your money. Our FAQs for victims of fraud are a helpful starting point.
Alternatively, your primary concern may be bringing the offender to justice. Victims of fraud are increasingly looking to private prosecutions as a route to hold an offender to account when the police fail to act. Private prosecutions are also a useful remedy in circumstances when it is not practical to commence civil litigation, for example, when the offender has already spent or dissipated the stolen assets and the recovery is unlikely to occur. The cost of bringing a private prosecution will differ according to a number of factors including: the complexity of the case, the size of the disclosure exercise and the response of the offender to the prosecution. Accordingly, one of the most important considerations before commencing a private prosecution is whether the cost of the litigation would outweigh the loss suffered. In circumstances where that balancing exercise weighs in favour of commencing a prosecution then it can be a very effective tool to address criminality and send a very public message that victims will take action when the State fails to investigate crimes that “don’t bang, bleed or shout”.