On 25th January 2020, The Times newspaper carried a headline story about fraud in the UK. The article is titled “Police can’t cope with avalanche of fraud cases”.
This was the finding of a report by Sir Craig Mackey, former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London. He also made the following points:
Action Fraud is failing to answer a third of calls;
The Police are not adequately equipped to investigate fraud in the UK;
There are almost 4 million cases of fraud in the UK reported each year which makes up one third of all reported crimes;
There have been unacceptable delays because Police forces are making excuses to avoid taking on investigations. Police staff say they can no longer work effectively to identify criminals and help bring them to justice;
The growth in fraud means that it should be seen as a national threat to the UK;
This is not a surprise to anyone who has been the victim of a scam and who has reported it to Action Fraud. The chances of the report being taken seriously are slim. The chances of the report being passed to a genuine Police officer are even slimmer, and the chances of the report actually resulting in an investigation are ridiculously low. If the scam involved the investor paying into an offshore bank account, or the scam involves companies based outside the UK, then the chance of the UK Police investigating the crime is virtually ZERO.
If the victim can provide a full evidence package which absolutely nails the scammer they have a chance of the Police taking an interest. The problem is that very few people have that level of evidence to begin with. That’s why they are relying on the Police to investigate.
The blame should not all be levelled at the UK Police. It is very difficult to prove fraud in court. The scammer knows it was a fraud, the victim knows it was a fraud and the Police know it was a fraud, but unless clear evidence is put before a Judge he/she will not convict. The Police are measured on their conviction rates and they won’t prosecute cases where they don’t have clear evidence and the likelihood of obtaining a conviction is not strong. Fraud investigations can take up a lot of time and be very expensive at a time when Police budgets are stretched. It is no surprise that fraud investigation is given such a low priority.
Also, the Police are interested in securing a conviction i.e putting the scammer in jail. Recovering the money is not their top priority, whereas for most investors the recovery of their money is the most important factor. Putting the scammer behind bars would be a bonus. Our priority is always the recovery of money and that generally means investors have to be prepared to file civil claims in court.
Quite often there are other parties involved in the scam. They were not part of the criminal plan and will not face any criminal charges from the Police, but they may have some liability to compensate investors through a civil claim. The Police are not interested in those parties because the Police investigate criminal offences, not civil matters. This is where investors need help in identifying and taking action against those potential third parties.
However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel in tackling fraud in the UK. Sir Craig Mackey’s report recommends the recruitment of hundreds of new Police officers with a focus on fraud. It also recommends the recruitment of financial experts from the banking sector. That seems a very sensible suggestion because the scammers cannot operate without a bank account. The downside is that the money for these measures won’t be made available for at least two years, if at all.
One of the most frustrating aspects of investigating scams, especially follow-on-frauds, is when we know the bank accounts the scammers are using and we approach the banks to warn them that the accounts are being used in a scam. Firstly, it’s very difficult to report a scam to a bank. More often than not the “reporting fraud” section is hidden away in an obscure part of the bank’s website and there is no phone number or email address.
Secondly, when you finally find a phone number that might help and you get through to someone at the bank they ask you “are you a customer of the bank and have you been defrauded”? When you tell them that you are not a customer of the bank, but you want to report an account that is being used in a scam, they say that they can only accept a fraud report from one of their customers who has paid into the account. No matter what you say they won’t report the account as a potential scam. The scammer is free to steal more money from ordinary people, when the account should really have been temporarily frozen whilst they looked into the receipts made into the account.
So….. the end result is that we often have to make a bank transfer from our own bank account into the scammers account. Then we report to our bank that we have been the victim of a fraud and we ask our bank to contact the scammers bank to investigate. That’s literally the only way to get a bank to take a closer look at the transactions on that account. You actually have to pay money into the scammer’s bank account. It’s just crazy.