People are more likely to become victims of fraud than any other crime and too many receive “poor service” from police, a watchdog has said.
The review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) also found the problem has become worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
It found the “detrimental effect of fraud is as great today as it has ever been” but it is still treated as a “low-priority or victimless crime”, leaving many victims denied justice.
Scammers thriving under lockdown. Video from March
Data for the year to March from the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, Action Fraud, show it reported a 28% rise in offences from 312,035 in 2019 to 2020 to 398,022.
The official figures also showed 97,927 “online shopping and auction” fraud offences were reported in the latest year – a 57% increase.
“Financial investment fraud” increased by 44% from 14,024 to 20,260 offences.
The Office for National Statistics said fraud and hacking soared during the pandemic as criminals “took advantage of behavioural changes” amid lockdown and restrictions in England and Wales.
There were also “substantial increases” in computer crimes as restrictions led to a surge in online shopping.
Citizens Advice’s guidelines – It could be a scam if:
- It seems too good to be true – for example, a holiday that’s much cheaper than you’d expect
- Someone you don’t know contacts you unexpectedly
- You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
- You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly
- You’ve been asked to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
- You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
- You haven’t had written confirmation of what’s been agreed
Inspector of constabulary at HMICFRS, Matt Parr, said: “You are still more likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime, but too few fraudsters are held to account.
“The scale of fraud has not diminished – in fact, it has increased during the pandemic – and it needs to become more of a priority for police forces.
“Overall, too many victims of fraud still receive a poor service from police.”
Inspectors reviewed the progress made by officers in tackling the crime since 2019, when it last looked at the issue.
It found “not enough has changed” and the “fundamental problem is a disparity between the amount of work fraud creates for the police and the resources allocated to it”.
It also found that 10 of 16 recommendations from the 2019 review have been implemented, with progress made on a further two and three still outstanding.
The inspectorate said one of the recommendations was no longer relevant.
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Mr Parr said more officers should be working on fraud cases and there should be more investigations so victims get the “justice they are entitled to”.
However, the inspectorate did note that due to funding being confirmed to police a year at a time, and with relatively short notice, planning and investing for the long term is difficult.
Meanwhile, the number of alleged fraud cases being heard in UK courts in the first half of this year almost doubled compared to the same time in 2020, according to a Fraud Barometer conducted by audit, tax and advisory company KPMG.
The inspectorate report recommended that the National Police Chiefs’ Council, National Crime Agency, National Economic Crime Centre and City of London Police work together to establish better processes to tackle fraud.
It also urged forces to adopt guidance for cases and improve the information given to victims.