The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) in collaboration with the City of London Police is spearheading a campaign targeting fraudsters responsible for duping members of the public and businesses out of billions of pounds. The campaign, named Project OTELLO, also involves police forces, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Fraud is the most common form of criminality perpetrated against UK households, with the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales showing the estimated number of offences in 2019 compared with the previous year increasing by 9% to 3.8 million.
The first in a series of operations as part of the new campaign to step up the UK’s response to fraud was co-ordinated by the City of London Police with a focus on criminals involved in courier fraud. This type of fraud typically involves victims being called by someone claiming to be from the police or a bank, and then persuaded to hand over bank cards, PIN numbers or cash to a ‘courier’ who attends the victim’s home address.
During the course of the operation which concluded in January, 44 arrests were made across nine police forces.
Reports of this type of fraud have increased rapidly over the last three years. In 2019, there were nearly 2,000 reports, rising sharply in the last quarter of the year. This is up from just over 1,000 in 2017 and 1,251 in 2018.
High harm crimes
The NECC’s campaign will also focus on high harm crimes such as romance fraud, investment fraud and payment diversion frauds. The police and national agencies involved will carry out numerous operations to arrest offenders, work to increase awareness on what members of the public can do to avoid becoming a victim and collaborate with technology companies and banks to ‘design out’ fraud.
Working closely with the City of London Police, the NECC instigated the campaign following discussions with chief constables, Police and Crime Commissioners and senior officers from other agencies at a national meeting that took place in early December. This led to a tasking being issued under the Crime and Courts Act 2013 by the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) director general Lynne Owens focused on improving the intelligence picture on fraud, pursuing offenders causing the highest harm and increasing the priority of fraud across the system.
It was sent on 19 December 2019 to all police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units in England and Wales, Police Scotland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the SFO, HMRC and the FCA.
Prolific form of criminality
The tasking was proposed jointly by Graeme Biggar, the director general of the NECC, and commissioner Ian Dyson of the City of London Police.
Biggar said: “Fraud is one of the most prolific crimes affecting UK residents, and the numbers are rising. The methods used to dupe people into handing over their hard-earned savings or inheritance are becoming more complex, and even the most savvy can become victims. This work aims to target those fraudsters causing the most harm. We also know the current system in the UK for tackling fraud needs to change, which is why we’re working closely with the Home Office, the City of London Police and others on broader reforms. We’re determined, along with our private and public sector partners, to make a real difference to the way in which fraud is tackled.”
He added: “Members of the public need to be more aware of fraud and take steps to protect themselves. Raising awareness will be a major part of our activity. We would encourage anyone who thinks they’re affected to report it. Without the best picture of when, where and how fraud is happening, we simply will not be able to take the most effective action.”
Protecting the public
Security minister Brandon Lewis commented: “Fraudsters are callous criminals who ruin victims’ lives while lining their own pockets. The Government is committed to working with the NCA and the police to protect the public. The Government is also committed to doing more to combat fraud. I welcome this intensification of efforts to respond to these crimes, building on the existing success of the NCA.”
Lewis also stated: “We have pledged to strengthen the NCA such that it can tackle the threats we face, from fraud, county lines gangs and child sexual abuse through to illicit finance, modern slavery and people trafficking.”
Commander Karen Baxter of the City of London Police observed: “Operation OTELLO will demonstrate what police forces and our partners can do to combat crime if we focus our resources. The first operation – that to tackle the scourge of courier fraud – has just come to a close. Operation Radium has made 44 arrests since November as part of our operational crack down on courier fraud. This will have prevented hundreds of victims from being targeted by the criminals whose objective is to steal lifetime savings from vulnerable older people.”