United Kingdom

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: It's right to axe Inaction Fraud...but what's next?

Few organisations operating in the key areas of consumer protection and consumer information have performed as poorly in recent years as Action Fraud, the police's national fraud reporting service. 

However, Smart Energy GB – the smug voice of smart meter world domination – has given it a good run for its money. It has wasted millions of pounds pushing consumers into installing smart meters that soon became obsolete or failed to work properly. 

But given the importance of Action Fraud's role in 'helping' victims of fraud, its uselessness has caused much more consumer pain. Never has the word 'action' been so wrongly applied. Inaction Fraud more like. 

Finger on the button: Given the importance of Action Fraud's role in 'helping' victims of fraud, its uselessness has caused much more consumer pain

Thousands of readers have contacted this newspaper to complain about their disappointing experience with Action Fraud – having dutifully reported an incident of fraud, getting a crime reference number, only for their case then not to be acted upon. Understandably, they have felt let down and invariably left seriously out of pocket.

A brilliant piece of undercover journalism by The Times in 2019 highlighted the contemptible way in which fraud victims were treated and viewed by Concentrix, the American company responsible for the day-to-day running of Action Fraud.  

Fraud victims were misled into believing their cases would be investigated when they weren't – and were privately mockingly referred to as 'morons' by staff. 

Thankfully, the Government has now conceded that Action Fraud is not fit for purpose – although it's taken a while for it to draw such a conclusion. Last year, a review of fraud policing commissioned by the Home Office and conducted by Sir Craig Mackey – former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – concluded that fraudsters operated in the UK with 'impunity' and called for 'radical change'. 

A year and a half later, the Government has decided that Action Fraud should be scrapped. Yet, rather worryingly, it's a little woolly about what should replace it. Last week, as part of its 'beating crime plan', it said Action Fraud would be replaced by an 'improved national fraud and cybercrime reporting system' – albeit run by an outside contractor (hopefully not Concentrix).

It also said an additional force dedicated to cybercrime would be set up within the National Crime Agency to investigate more complex and serious fraud cases. Greater support for victims, more arrests and prosecutions, and more resources employed into investigating fraud, were all promised. 

While all this is welcome, I fear the Government's measures to tackle the cancer of fraud will not go far enough. What is required is a more fundamental overhaul.

Currently, too many cases fall between the cracks – rejected as not worthy of follow-up, either by Action Fraud or the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau which decides which crimes should be passed on to police forces to investigate. 

Even when cases are given to the police, a lack of resources and expertise means convictions are more of a rarity than the norm. As few as one in 200 police officers have any expertise in investigating fraud, despite the fact that financial crime now accounts for more than 40 per cent of all criminal offences – and costs the economy £4.7billion a year.

As part of our Nail The Scammers campaign, The Mail on Sunday believes the best way to tackle the avalanche of financial crime is to set up a dedicated, properly resourced police unit. One that could be funded in part by the profit-rich big banks, internet providers and mobile phone providers. 

For too long, police forces have been encouraged to push fraud investigations to one side in favour of solving less time-consuming criminal acts. It has resulted in an unacceptable situation where committing a financial scam against a member of the public is a no-risk crime. Yes, axeing Action Fraud is a step in the right direction. But it's not the solution. 

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