We must reboot the system for tackling fraud
Fraud is the most prevalent and worrying crime in Britain and yet police forces have less than one per cent of their resources dedicated to fighting it.
Every day there are more than 10,000 incidents of fraud committed in England and Wales. Bank account hackers and online scammers have become an almost constant threat and victims can lose life-changing amounts of money. The lack of response to it has become a national emergency.
But this isn’t primarily a policing issue. It is a government issue.
For too long ministers have underinvested in this area. Police forces have had to deal with increased demand without funding for new officers and have had to direct resources elsewhere, conflicted between threat, risk and harm, terrorism and cyber crime.
There is also a lack of national direction when it comes to tackling fraud. Currently, there are more than ten different agencies dealing with fraud in all its forms. When people lose money to fraudsters they have to call Action Fraud. This national organisation, which is overseen by City of London police, collects crime reports and passes some of these to investigators at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau who then pass on a selection of these to local police forces.
The Times has recently reported on the failings of the Action Fraud team. I have also been hugely critical of Action Fraud since 2014.
As the police crime commissioner for Dorset, I recently went to consultation with the public asking them to tell me of their experiences of dealing with Action Fraud. Staggeringly, 71 per cent of people in Dorset who had used the service were unhappy with how their cases were handled. I am taking those findings to Action Fraud in early January so that I can challenge the service my constituents receive.
Action Fraud is overseen by the City of London Police, which is the official national lead force for tackling fraud. But it is a small force with 700 officers and I am concerned that it does not have adequate resources. It needs additional government support urgently.
It is also pointless having Action Fraud collecting all of these reports if the police forces that receive the cases have no resources to deal with them.
Put simply, a new government needs a new approach. We need a complete national reboot of our response to fraud with suitable funding. A National Fraud Agency, working alongside the National Crime Agency could attract the right people to handle the demand and complexities of fraud.
There is currently a Serious Organised Crime review being undertaken by Sir CraigMackey, the former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. But this is not enough to solve this issue.
I liken the review to moving deckchairs on the Titanic. It has already led to the Home Secretary asking the National Crime Agency and Chief Constables to redirect some of their resources to fraud but without changing the system or employing thousands of new fraud investigators, we will just see smoke and mirrors. The system is too broken to recover.
The Home Secretary talks tough on crime. Let’s see some tough decisions made in relation to fraud, and quickly - the boat is sinking.
An edited version of the above was published in The Times' Thunderer section on Thursday 19 December 2019.