JEFF PRESTRIDGE: It’s right to stop Inaction Fraud…but now what?

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Abolishing Action Fraud Is A Step In The Right Direction – But It Isn’t The Solution To The Plague Of Scammers Plaguing This Country

Few consumer protection and consumer information organizations have performed as poorly in recent years as Action Fraud, the police’s national fraud reporting service.

However, Smart Energy GB – the smug voice of smart meter world domination – has given it a good run for its money. It has wasted millions of pounds pushing consumers to install smart meters that quickly became outdated or malfunctioned.

But given the importance of Action Fraud’s role in ‘helping’ victims of fraud, its futility has resulted in far more pain for consumers. Never has the word ‘action’ been so misapplied. Inaction Fraud more like.

Finger on the switch: Given the importance of Action Fraud’s role in ‘helping’ victims of fraud, its futility has resulted in much more consumer pain

Thousands of readers have contacted this newspaper to complain about their disappointing experience with Action Fraud – after dutifully reporting a fraud incident, being given a crime reference number, only to then go unheard of their case. Understandably, they have felt abandoned and invariably deeply left out.

A brilliant piece of undercover journalism from The Times in 2019 highlighted the despicable way fraud victims were treated and viewed by Concentrix, the US company responsible for the day-to-day running of Action Fraud.

Fraud victims were misled into believing that their cases would be investigated when they were not – and were derisively referred to as ‘idiots’ by staff.

Fortunately, the government has now admitted that asset fraud is not fit for purpose, although it took some time for it to reach such a conclusion. Last year, an investigation into fraud policing commissioned by the Home Office and conducted by Sir Craig Mackey – former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – concluded that fraudsters in the UK were operating ‘with impunity’ and calling for ‘radical change’.

Eighteen months later, the government has decided that Action Fraud should be abolished. But, rather disturbingly, it’s a bit woolly about what it should replace. Last week, as part of its ‘crime plan’, it said Action Fraud would be replaced by an ‘enhanced national fraud and cybercrime reporting system’ – albeit run by an outside contractor (hopefully not Concentrix).

It also said an additional cybercrime force would be established within the National Crime Agency to investigate more complex and serious fraud cases. More support for victims, more arrests and prosecutions and more resources to detect fraud were all promised.

While this is all welcome, I fear the government’s measures to tackle the cancer of fraud will not go far enough. What is needed is a more fundamental revision.

Currently, too many cases are falling through the cracks — dismissed because it’s not worthy of a follow-up, either by Action Fraud or the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which decides which crimes should be turned over to the police to investigate.

Even when cases are handed over to the police, a lack of resources and expertise means that convictions are rarer than the norm. Only one in 200 police officers has any expertise in investigating fraud, despite the fact that financial crime now accounts for more than 40 percent of all crimes – and costs the economy £4.7 billion a year.

As part of our Nail The Scammers campaign, The Mail on Sunday believes the best way to tackle the avalanche of financial crime is to create a dedicated, well-equipped police unit. One that could be partly financed by the profitable big banks, internet providers and mobile phone providers.

For too long, police forces have been encouraged to put aside fraud investigations in favor of solving less time-consuming criminal acts. It has resulted in an unacceptable situation where committing financial scams against a member of the public is a no-risk crime. Yes, eliminating action fraud is a step in the right direction. But it is not the solution.