Fraud victims rarely getting justice with Home Secretary 'asleep at the wheel'

·4 min read
Online fraud soared during the pandemic - PA
Online fraud soared during the pandemic - PA

Nearly half of fraud cases investigated by police are dropped without a suspect ever being identified, as fewer of the crimes are solved, official figures show.

The Home Office data reveals just 4,853 investigations completed by police last year resulted in a suspect being charged, a drop of 11 per cent on the previous year’s 5,431.

That represents just nine per cent of the 51,870 fraud cases passed to police forces by Action Fraud, the central police reporting centre for all such crimes.

The figures show that in nearly half the cases - 22,420 - no suspect was identified. This represents a 20 per cent increase on the previous year’s total of 18,744.

The disclosures come only a month after HM inspectorate of police warned that fraud victims were being denied justice after they found just one per cent of officers are being assigned to investigate the crime even though it is the most common offence.

The figures have been uncovered by the Liberal Democrats, who will on Monday accuse Home Secretary Priti Patel of being “asleep at the wheel” in the fight against fraud.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, photographed in August, is being accused of being 'asleep at the wheel' - AFP
Home Secretary Priti Patel, photographed in August, is being accused of being 'asleep at the wheel' - AFP

The figures only cover those cases that are referred to police forces by Action Fraud, which uses an algorithm to filter out those that are deemed unlikely to be solved because of a lack of evidence.

Those that result in a charge represent a fraction - just 0.5 per cent - of the 837,104 fraud offences recorded by police - and an even smaller proportion of the reported three million frauds by people based on their actual experience of the crime in official surveys.

Many people do not report frauds because of the shame they might feel about how they were conned or because they do not believe the crimes will ever be solved.

The LibDems will also propose that banks with the worst records on fraud should be named and shamed.

They are demanding a new law to make it mandatory for banks to refund blameless victims and a new legal requirement for social media companies to do more to clamp down on scams on their platforms.

Alistair Carmichael, former Scottish Secretary in David Cameron’s coalition Government, said: “Far too many criminals are getting away with this appalling crime, and far too many victims are being left without justice.

“It is a national scandal that vulnerable people are being abandoned after losing life-changing sums of money. The Government must urgently toughen up its approach to fraud, ensure victims are refunded and give police the resources they need to catch those responsible.”

The data confirms that online fraud has soared during the pandemic. Internet banking fraud more than doubled between 2019 and 2020.

Those falling victim to scams are also often not receiving their money back, with just £147 million (47 per cent) of the £312 million of losses to bank transfer fraud being reimbursed last year.

Last month, HM inspectorate of police said forces were wrongly dismissing fraud as a low priority, victimless crime with too few officers and too few investigations allocated to it. They said the result was that “far too few criminals [are being] brought to justice.”

“All this leads to far too few victims receiving the service and the justice they want and are entitled to expect,” they added.

The LibDems are also demanding minimum standards for all banks on preventing fraud, and requiring them to report to the government on their performance.

They also want the voluntary industry code on authorised push payments replaced with a mandatory, statutory code, including an obligation to reimburse victims unless there is clear evidence that they are at fault.

In its Beating Crime plan the Government pledged to replace Action Fraud with an improved national fraud and cybercrime reporting system and increase intelligence capabilities in the National Crime Agency (NCA) to identify the most harmful criminals and organised criminal gangs.

The NCA is to be given new responsibilities to investigate fraud as part of the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to create a new cybercrime force.

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