The Times recently reported that UK police forces were struggling to deal with a wave on online fraud cases.
Fewer than one in 100 cybercrimes were being followed up, it said, with many of those having originated overseas.
“The scale of offending is so great that officers rely on a computer program to assess whether cases are worth following up,” journalist Andrew Ellson wrote last week.
It’s not surprising that the police are coming under pressure and being criticised. Our teams have long experience in the fields of law enforcement and investigative work, and these type of crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute. They require complex investigations which are reliant upon technical expertise – expertise often outside the normal policing skills toolkit – and many are perpetrated by foreign gangs operating in overseas jurisdictions.
Although the UK is expanding its cybercrime fighting capabilities, cross-jurisdictional issues can see investigations stagnate; requests for overseas assistance get bogged down in diplomatic channels, allowing the culprits ample time to cover their tracks, move money and evade justice.
As a specialised asset recovery and retrieval law firm, focusing on fraud cases, we have proposed to police here the possibility of using the private sector and allowing asset-recovery experts such as ourselves, and partner liquidation experts, to assess whether civil recovery may be possible and cost-effective. Without that option, we know that many victims will be left feeling frustrated and disappointed at the lack of action on their behalf.
Our proposal may be in its infancy, but it’s clear authorities are being swamped by all manner of fraud. Thanks to austerity cuts, police are unable to investigate crimes which, historically, they might have tackled. Although the National Crime Agency and some of the regional policing units do embark on civil recoveries when the targets are out of the reach of normal criminal prosecution, it’s still only a small percentage of all such crimes.
For a civil route to become viable, losses need to be significant before an investigation becomes cost effective. However, some frauds involve multiple victims: comparatively small sums when added together can become a significant illicit gain for the fraudster. The question for police is this: would it be better to relieve the culprits of their ill-gotten gains through the civil courts … or simply turn a blind-eye, due to the unlikelihood of a criminal prosecution?
I believe that many victims would rather see some of their monies returned, even if legal fees had to be paid, than know the culprits were able to enjoy the high-life on the back of the entirety of their loss.
It must be remembered that the majority of these offences are committed by Organised Crime Groups, involved in all sorts of other serious crimes (such as people-trafficking, drug-trafficking and even the funding of terrorism). So anything we can do to frustrate their activities should be welcomed.
Martin Kenney is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset retrieval practice focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud cases www.martinkenney.com | @MKSolicitors