Paying lip service to the endemic problem of fraud should never be acceptable

By Tony McClements

The UK government has paid lip service to tackling fraud and money laundering for far too long, and by default so too have those who lead the UK’s police forces.

The latest handwringing session comes after a British parliamentary committee launched an inquiry into the criminal justice system’s approach to combating fraud, after finding that a shortage of government resources has contributed to a huge number of scams in Britain every year. 

The Justice Committee now needs to grip this poisoned chalice and push the government to actually do something about the problem.

The figures highlighted by the committee are jaw dropping: £137 billion ($182 billion) of scams take place in Britain every year, with only 1% of policing resources dedicated to what is likely one of the most commonly committed crimes in the UK. In the first half 2021 of alone, online scams increased an incredible 285%.

If we factor in that only 3% of frauds receive any police investigation leading to a conviction (and also that fraud is probably the most underreported of crimes), these figures become even more alarming.

British police forces are measured, like many across the globe, on their ability to prevent and detect crime. Statisticians can tell you accurately how one UK police force is faring against another. The problem is that forces are not being put under pressure to investigate fraud, as it is not considered a policing priority. This means that the heads of police forces are not being measured effectively in their counter-fraud efforts. 

And it is this that ensures that available investigative resources will inevitably be focused elsewhere, despite the public continuing to report record levels of suspected fraud. The Justice Committee has said that as little as 1% of police resources are dedicated to fraud. Fraud necessitates a high-priority focus, against which Chief Constables can be measured, similar to the demands for action against burglary and violent crime. Until it does, nothing will change.

I simply do not believe that the UK authorities are serious about making a difference.

The problem is exacerbated further by the inability of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to resource and support prosecutions for fraud. It too is able to dodge the fraud criticism bullet, due to a lack of oversight and an inability to ensure that its performance is up to the task. 

The CPS launched its own enforcement plan focused on economic crime in March last year. The plans included establishing the first economic crime court in England and Wales. This is all well and good, but who is going to arrest and charge the crooks committing the fraud in order to put them before the new court? 

I simply do not believe that the UK authorities are serious about making a difference. These initiatives, like those before them, will likely disappear into the ether. 

In response, commercial victims of fraud are increasingly launching their own private prosecutions. These will inevitably become more commonplace, such is the inability and unwillingness of the UK police to resource cases of this nature or the CPS to effectively prosecute them. 

The UK government needs to awaken to the fact that its current means of prosecuting fraud is totally inadequate, and that changes must be made. Paying lip service is no longer acceptable and it must confront this enormous social and economic problem – or face a crisis on its watch.

Tony McClements is Senior Investigator at Martin Kenney & Co. He served for 33 years with UK police forces and has specialised in Fraud & Financial Investigation since 1998. He is also a lecturer in these subjects at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN).