New research conducted by Perpetuity Research and The Police Foundation has found that the police response to victims of fraud is “inadequate”. Despite fraud comprising up to 31% of all crime, and more than one third of victims reporting that the impact on them from fraud was severe or significant, fraud isn’t prioritised by the police service.
Perpetuity Research and The Police Foundation’s analysis of crime data and interviews with national and local practitioners found that the system for dealing with fraud is “poorly structured”, fraud prevention messages are “confusing” and victim support services “don’t cater for the specific needs of fraud victims”.
Although the police received 277,561 reports of fraud in 2017-2018, only 8,313 (ie 3%) led to criminal charges. This compares to 13% of reported crimes overall that result in a charge, a summons or some form of community resolution. Once a crime is reported, there are major delays before victims know whether their cases will be taken up by the police. This means that vital opportunities for investigation can be lost.
Victims, and their cases, are often “passed around a fragmented network” of local and national agencies. Some police forces “offer little or no support” to their local fraud victims.
The study found that 35% of victims whose cases were being investigated by the police said the impact of the fraud upon them was severe or significant. 78% of fraud cases involved a suspect and a victim living in different police force areas. 69% of fraud cases investigated by the police were cyber-enabled, while 43% involved first contact being made online.
In 69% of police forces, all or most fraud investigations were carried out by non-specialist officers, even though the research found that specialist investigators handle cases more effectively. Just 0.8% of the police workforce operates in specialist economic crime teams, meaning that there’s a lack of dedicated resource for dealing with fraud.
78% of the police workforce said they needed more training to deal with fraud. 74% of police personnel said they don’t have the time to effectively deal with fraud cases, while 86% of police officers and staff thought fraud should be dealt with by specialists. 28% of police forces offer no service at all to their local fraud victims.
Further, 65% of police forces don’t know how many victims of fraud contact them. In general, victims are simply passed on to the national Action Fraud Call Centre, even though in some cases an immediate local response may be appropriate.
Despite fraud accounting for one third of all crime, the Government has no national strategy for tackling fraud. The last strategy was published in 2011 by the National Fraud Authority (an organisation that has since been abolished).
Recommendations for improving police response
In the wake of the study’s results, Perpetuity Research and The Police Foundation have now set out recommendations for improving the police response to victims of fraud.
The Government should produce a national strategy for tackling fraud alongside a national fraud policing strategy.
Local police forces should no longer be responsible for fraud investigations. Investigations should instead be handled by dedicated fraud specialists (who need not be police officers) hosted by regional fraud investigation units.
There should be clear national guidance on what police forces should do when contacted by a victim of fraud.
There should also be a national framework for identifying vulnerable victims of fraud. All vulnerable victims should be referred to an expanded Economic Crime Victims Care Unit.
Local police forces should focus on contacting vulnerable victims who need support and providing fraud prevention advice to residents.
Professor Martin Gill CSyP FSyI, director of Perpetuity Research, said: “With the growth of the Internet, fraud has changed from being a corporate white collar crime to a volume crime affecting millions of victims. Fraud is often complex to investigate and the offender and victim may live in different police force areas or even different countries. We’ve found that fraud is far from being a victimless crime. Even if the prospect of a conviction is unlikely, the police could provide a much better service to the victim.”
The Police Foundation’s director Dr Rick Muir added: “Fraud represents a third of all crime, but there’s no national strategy for dealing with it. We have a local system of 43 police forces that’s not set up to deal with a cross-border crime like fraud. This means that, all-too-often, victims receive a much worse service from the police than they would for other types of crime. Investigations are carried out by local police forces that are over-stretched and lack the specialist skills to investigate fraud. We’re calling on the Government to tackle this problem.”
Need for enhanced security solutions
Brett Beranek, vice-president and general manager for the security and biometrics business stream at Nuance Communications, stated: “Simply put, these findings are the latest in a long line of evidence demonstrating the need for enhanced security solutions. When it comes to fraud, prevention is better than cure. In order to relieve some of the pressures on the criminal justice system, organisations and consumers alike need to be one step ahead. After all, cyber criminals are now more sophisticated, more skilled and more determined than ever before.”
Beranek continued: “While there’s not and never will be one single silver bullet for fighting fraud, biometrics is a proven and effective authentication factor and fraud tool. In fact, Infiniti Research estimates that voice biometrics can address 90% of fraud in a voice channel, as well as 80% of fraud in a mobile channel. This type of authentication leverages more than 100 unique speech characteristics including physical attributes – such as size and shape of your nasal passage – and behavioural attributes like accent, pronunciation and the speed at which you talk. This is why organisations such as banks or telecoms providers which use Call Centres are increasingly moving towards biometrics for authentication instead of the traditional knowledge-based security questions.”
In conclusion, Beranek observed: “With voice biometrics, even if a database of voiceprints were hacked, that data cannot be converted back into audio that could be used to hack accounts, so immediately reducing its monetary value on The Dark Web. Even if cyber criminals could steal a recording of a person’s voice, playback detection technology can be used to test incoming audio to see if it represents live speech or if it’s fraudulent.”
Background detail of the study
The national survey elicited responses from 32 of the 43 police forces across England and Wales. In-depth research involved the Kent, Essex and Avon and Somerset forces. There were 107 semi-structured interviews conducted with policymakers, leaders and practitioners as well as a police workforce survey in two police forces with 405 responses.
In addition, there was an analysis of national crime data (64,857 case allocations for investigation by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to forces). 25 local police investigation case files were also examined.
When it comes to the current infrastructure for dealing with fraud, victims report cases to their local police force or the central reporting hub (ie Action Fraud). Most forces refer victims straight to Action Fraud. Cases reported to Action Fraud are then assessed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Only a minority of cases reported will be allocated an investigation. Those that are will then be passed to the local police force where the suspect may be located. Services offered to victims will depend on the priorities of their local police force.