Fraud surges as prosecutions slump to record low
Just one in 1,000 frauds are solved as charges hit a record low last year, an analysis of official figures has revealed.
Just 4,913 fraud offences resulted in a charge or summons last year, out of 4.9 million scams reported by people in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) annual survey of crime.
This means just 0.1 per cent of frauds resulted in a prosecution despite the number of offences rising nearly a third on the pre-pandemic level, according to the analysis of official data by The Telegraph.
Wayne Stevens, Victim Support’s national fraud lead, said police currently lack the necessary trained officers and have not made fraud a priority - meaning it has been starved of resources.
“Your chances of a fraud being solved by a police force depend on whether it is a priority, whether they have the expertise and whether they have the trained officers,” he said.
“The nature of fraud has changed so quickly in the last 10 to 20 years that police forces have been left behind.”
Official statistics have shown that just 1,753 police officers and staff in England and Wales were primarily focused on economic crimes such as fraud in 2021 – amounting to just 0.8 per cent of the total police workforce.
This equates to one police worker for every 2,800 frauds.
Police response 'not anywhere near to the scale of fraud'
Of the 4.9 million frauds reported by the ONS survey - a panel of 30,000 people who record their real experience of crime - just under one million were reported to police.
Four in five are written off by victims due to embarrassment, a belief they will never be solved or through private settlement.
Of the 965,162 frauds reported to Action Fraud, the central clearing house for the crime, and police forces in the year to March 2022, just one in 100 were solved.
Most of the nearly one million crimes undergo an initial sift by a computer system known as the “NFIB” (National Fraud Intelligence Bureau) brain. It rates the crime on its chances of being solved and its potential “threat and harm to individuals, businesses or the economy as a whole”.
Of those then passed to police forces for investigation, just 4,913 resulted in a charge in the year to March 2022. That is the lowest number on record, down from 5,152 in the previous year and 6,402 in 2017.
“The law enforcement response is not anywhere near to the scale of fraud,” said Mr Stevens.
“First, it’s a resource issue, secondly it’s a skills and expertise issue which can vary from force to force.”
Figures published by Action Fraud for 2020, the most recent year, have shown big variations between different police forces.
Fraud 'wrongly seen as an invisible crime'
Dorset Police reported charges in 7.2 per cent of frauds, with Cumbria recording charges in 6.8 per cent of cases and Durham at 4.6 per cent. Nottinghamshire Police brought charges in four per cent of frauds.
By contrast, North Yorkshire reported a “judicial outcome” in 0.1 per cent of cases, followed by Gloucestershire at 0.7 per cent, West Midlands at 0.8 per cent and Cleveland at 0.9 per cent.
“In the absence of major investment, chief constables have prioritised physical, visible harms such as rape, sexual offences child exploitation,” said a former fraud commander.
“They have responded to the ‘visible’ crimes in their areas. Fraud is wrongly seen as an ‘invisible’ crime, despite the emotional damage it causes.”
Mike Haley, chief executive of Cifas, a fraud prevention service, said: “The problem is that policing is set up with 43 constabularies to deal with local crime where the perpetrator and victim are in the same area, whereas fraud has a perpetrator who could be anywhere nationally or more often than not internationally.”
He said there needs to be a “national capability”, whether provided by the National Crime Agency or a specialist fraud force, backed by “really strong investment”.
New 'Fraud Strategy'
Asst Commissioner Peter O’Doherty, of the City of London Police, which leads on fraud, said officers are “constantly investigating and bringing often complex cases to court”, as well as taking down websites and phone numbers used to commit fraud.
He said the Government is investing more and police are “working to do more”.
A government spokesman said: “The Government remains absolutely committed to cracking down on the shameless scammers stealing cash from hard-working families.
“Our upcoming Fraud Strategy will consider all possible tools required to go after fraudsters and protect those who are most vulnerable to these crimes.”
Ministers are also introducing a new legal duty on social media firms and search engines to tackle fraudulent advertising that has conned vulnerable consumers out of millions during the pandemic.
They would be required to put in place “systems and processes” that minimise the likelihood of fraudulent adverts being published or hosted on their services. Failure to do so will leave them open to fines by the watchdog Ofcom of up to 10 per cent of their global turnover.