Watchdog calls for more specialist investigators as he admits officers don’t take fraud seriously
Britain must ‘at least’ triple the number of fraud investigators to tackle the epidemic of scams, a senior police watchdog has said.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr admitted that fraud was not considered a priority by police despite it being a ‘cruel and devastating’ crime.
He called for an urgent review of police recruitment and said it was no longer acceptable ‘to just shrug our shoulders and say s*** happens’.
£300 FOR AN IPHONE THAT NEVER ARRIVED
A musical theatre student lost £300 after falling for a scam advertised on social media.
Josh Pengelly found a secondhand iPhone 11 for sale on Facebook Marketplace.
Mr Pengelly, 20, wanted to use PayPal to send the £300 because the payment platform offers buyers protection if there is a problem.
But the seller, who claimed to be based in Plymouth, refused and insisted that he pay by bank transfer. He reluctantly agreed, but the phone never arrived.
The seller made excuses at first, including that the Post Office was closed, but then blocked the student from sending further messages.
Mr Pengelly reported the account to Facebook last year, but never heard back and it was still active months later.
Mr Pengelly, who lives in Chichester, West Sussex, said: ‘It just makes me so angry that this person is still on there and nothing has been done.’
Facebook investigated the case. It said the seller did not have any live Marketplace listings at the time, and that the profile did not violate their community standards.’
Josh Pengelly found a secondhand iPhone 11 for sale on Facebook Marketplace
It comes amid warnings that the Government is still recruiting the wrong kind of police officers to tackle fraud, despite repeated warnings that forces do not have enough specialists.
The Daily Mail revealed yesterday that Britain has become the global capital of fraud, with recorded losses rocketing to almost £3 billion a year. The Mail is campaigning for a major overhaul to the system, starting with the appointment of a minister for fraud.
We are also demanding that police make tackling fraud a priority and boost the number of specialist investigators.
Last night Labour and the Lib Dems backed the Mail’s campaign. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government was ‘failing to take fraud seriously’.
She added: ‘It’s a scandal that victims of fraud are being effectively ignored and denied proper protection or justice. This is a really important campaign from the Mail as urgent action is needed.’
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael demanded ‘a far stronger response from the Government… led by a dedicated fraud minister’. He added: ‘Vile criminals are lining their pockets and causing immense harm, and this Government is letting them get away with it.’
Mark Shelford, the lead police commissioner for economic and cyber crime in England and Wales, described the Mail’s campaign as ‘terrific’.
He also revealed that he was told by colleagues not to ‘touch’ the fraud job because ‘it is too bloody difficult, you can’t make a difference and it’ll just swamp your work’.
Mr Shelford, a former Army officer, said it was symptomatic of a wider attitude within the police towards fraud, but added: ‘The supertanker is changing course.’
Fraud is the most common crime in England and Wales – constituting 39 per cent of offences in 2021 – but just 2 per cent of the police workforce is dedicated to fighting it.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found in 2019 that one police force filed 96 per cent of the scam cases it received from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) as requiring ‘no further action’.
Just one in 1,000 fraud offences resulted in a charge last year, according to analysis of the Office for National Statistics’ annual crime survey.
Mr Parr, a former rear admiral in the Royal Navy, said ‘a number of forces’ would try to ‘weed out’ intelligence packages they received from the NFIB, meaning fraud victims ‘aren’t getting anything like the service they should get’. He said the current pool of police fraud specialists was a ‘long way off’ what was needed, despite it being just as ‘traumatic’ for victims as other crimes. He added: ‘I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather be on the wrong end of a fight in the pub, than on the wrong end of fraud.’
Mr Parr said it would be a ‘missed opportunity’ if the number of fraud investigators were not significantly increased during an ongoing police recruitment drive.
But experts warned the Home Office’s Uplift programme, launched in 2019 to return the number of officers to pre-austerity levels, is failing to do this. The hiring spree is aimed at boosting ‘generalist’ constables, but isn’t tackling a severe shortage of specialists in areas including cyber crime and fraud, according to the Police Foundation think-tank.
Mr Parr admitted a major problem for police was fraud investigators being poached by the private sector. Last year, the Treasury select committee heard that investigators were leaving the police out of frustration at the lack of resources, with many moving to banks and one even becoming a train driver.
Critics have also blamed the fragmented approach to tackling fraud, with at least 23 different agencies assigned to the task.
Under the Home Office, the City of London Police (CLP) takes the national lead for policing fraud and runs Action Fraud, where fraud cases are reported, and the NFIB, which analyses reports.
But these organisations lack sufficient staff, are underfunded, and their technical systems are outdated, according to the Social Market Foundation.
A government spokesman said: ‘We will not allow fraudsters to line their pockets with British people’s hard-earned cash. That is why the Government is developing a strategy to tackle the scourge of fraud, which be published later this year.’
Pete O’Doherty, CLP assistant commissioner, said: ‘We recognise the threat from fraud is increasing and are actively working with police forces and partners across the UK to improve the policing response.’
Elderly suffer in ‘tidal wave’ of fraud cases
By Miles Dilworth Investigations Reporter for the Daily Mail
Britain is suffering a ‘tidal wave’ of fraud, with hundreds of thousands of victims suffering in silence, the victims’ commissioner has warned.
Dame Vera Baird QC said people often feel ‘mentally raped’ by scammers, but were too ashamed to tell their families.
Some elderly parents even carry their secret to their deathbeds if they have been duped out of cash they intended to leave to their children.
CONNED OUT OF £45,000, NURSE IS NOW FORCED TO SELL HOME
A critical care nurse who lost £45,000 in an elaborate pension investment scam faces having to sell her home.
Pauline Padden, 58, from Merseyside, was looking after her ill mother when she received a text message offering cash and a better return on her pension if she transferred her pot.
Miss Padden sent a text back to confirm her interest and, after a phone call with a broker, transferred the money to Gresham Investment Pension Scheme.
Six months later, a Pension Commission-linked company sent a letter to say she had been scammed out of £45,000.
The scam’s mastermind David Austin killed himself in 2019.
In April, Susan Dalton, 66, and Alan Barratt, 62 – who helped con 245 people in the £13.7million pension fraud – were jailed for a total of ten years.
Miss Padden, who has worked in critical care for more than 40 years and is now at the Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool, said: ‘My mum was really sick and I couldn’t take time off because my husband at the time was not working.
‘I thought that if I moved the pension I would get a fee which would have helped me greatly.
I was in quite a vulnerable position. ‘I was devastated.
That £45,000 I lost would have made a massive difference to me because I could have bought my ex-husband out of this home. ‘It has left me not trusting people. I don’t often believe what people say to me.
Miss Padden, worked in critical care for more than 40 years before scam hit
It is estimated about 700,000 fraud victims a year ‘suffer profoundly’ from the trauma – but Dame Vera said it was ‘extremely disappointing’ that most get ‘little to no victim care’.
The victims’ commissioner – a former Labour MP and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria – said it was time to take fraud seriously and end the ‘victim blaming’ culture around scams.
She said her inbox was filled with stories of elderly people who had spiralled into depression or were too afraid to leave their homes after falling foul to con artists.
But Dame Vera dismissed the stereotype of the ‘gullible’ older victim and said the authorities needed to stop hiding behind the excuse that levels of fraud had become ‘unmanageable’.
‘When we think of the word “victim”, fraud is probably not one of the first crimes that springs to mind,’ she said.
‘But there are people out there who are really suffering. Sometimes, older people who lose money they intended to leave to their children don’t want to talk about it because they feel ashamed.
‘Younger people also feel that they’ll be regarded as foolish by all their friends, so they don’t talk about it and bottle it up. Fraud can be a deeply intimate and inter-personal crime, causing long-lasting emotional trauma as well as financial loss.’
Dame Vera said victims of fraud deserved the same support as victims of other crimes, and called for the Government to deliver on its promise to publish its fraud strategy this year.
She said the public needed clarity over who to call if they were defrauded, adding it was a ‘big problem’ that many were bounced between their local police force and Action Fraud.
She welcomed the expansion of the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit, which supports vulnerable victims, but said many ‘still seem likely to be falling through the net’.
Dame Vera added: ‘Victims do not know who to turn to when they are looking for redress through the criminal justice system.
‘About 15 per cent of fraud victims report it to Action Fraud, but only a minority get a judicial outcome. So even the few who do report fraud get anything out of reporting it.’
A report by the victims’ commissioner last year found that almost a quarter of all fraud victims are likely to be deeply affected by their experience.
It found many may suffer ‘very high levels of financial loss, severe emotional strain, including suffering from anxiety or depression’ or ‘relationship difficulties as a result of their being defrauded’.
There were 383,132 fraud reports in the UK between April 30 last year and May 31 this year, resulting in losses of £2.9 billion, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. But experts have warned the cost of living squeeze is fuelling a new ‘wave of scams’, with the amount stolen more than tripling as the financial crunch begins to bite.
Scams fund slavery, trafficking and terror plots
Scams targeting millions of Britons are funding modern slavery, people trafficking and even terrorist plots, experts warn.
The fraudsters are paying organised-crime gangs to launder their ill-gotten money on a terrifying scale, while other scams are being run directly by those involved in terrorism and trafficking.
A guide produced for the Islamic State terror group even provides advice on how to scam ‘infidels’ to raise funds for jihadi activities. But MPs have warned that the authorities only know of ‘the tip of the iceberg’ because most fraud is undetected.
Experts said the revelations show fraud must be treated as a ‘national security threat’ and backed the Daily Mail’s Stop the Scammers campaign.
It is estimated about 700,000 fraud victims a year ‘suffer profoundly’ from the trauma (stock image)
Tory MP Simon Fell, a member of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption, said he had seen evidence that connects scammers targeting British victims ‘directly’ to modern slavery, people traffickers running illegal Channel crossings, and even terrorist financing.
He said a secret dossier, shared with him by law enforcement officials before he became an MP in 2019, showed fraud ‘predicates, drives and enables’ the most serious crimes in the UK. Mr Fell, who used to work for counter-fraud experts Cifas, added: ‘The scale of fraud is just phenomenal and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg because there’s so much that’s under-reported.’
A guide written by an Islamic State supporter in 2015 provided advice on a range of scams that can earn ‘easy money’, arguing that the ‘blood, wealth and honour’ of non-Muslims is ‘not protected’.