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Fraud . . . “Police have lost the skill and the will”

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Thursday 27th February, 2020 | Author: Dick Smith [Member (F1520)] | Filed under: Case studies

Experian has estimated the total cost of fraud to the UK economy close to £190 billion; dwarfing the figure actually reported to the police. At the same time, the Police Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands admits that victims are “being let down under the current system, which is slow, unresponsive and in need of an overhaul.”

As a timely demonstration of the PCC’s assessment, Dick Smith reports yet another tale of law enforcement failure.
Hardly a week goes by without a hapless soul contacting Dick’s fraud investigation company with a miserable narrative of loss of funds, perhaps a clever investment scam, and the sheer incompetence and indifference of law enforcement to deal with it... or rather not deal with it! Dick is a former career detective in the police, yet after listening to the details and carrying out some basic internet research, often as not, his advice will be, “Don’t expect the police to do anything. Accept the money is gone. It will never be recovered. Don’t throw good money after bad trying to chase it!”

Occasionally, just occasionally, the realisation both that the fraud has taken place and that the police will do nothing about it will be so shortly enough after the event that Dick can offer to instigate a sting; an opportunity to flush out the fraudster by appealing to his greed.

It was regrettably not the case with Mr A, who at the end of 2019 was scammed out of a recent inheritance of more than £160,000, and an opportunity for the police to redeem some credibility passed them by.

Resident in rural southeast England, Mr A has been a hard worker throughout his life. He was keen that the lump-sum he had received was wisely invested; a nest-egg for him and his family’s future. He accessed a reputable investment website and followed various links; sadly, straying off-piste and finding himself supposedly dealing with a UK-based brokerage ‘company’ offering ‘UK High Street Supermarket Best Interest Bonds’. He received emails and subsequent phone-calls from a representative. Everything about the company looked genuine; including a landline number and address in central Edinburgh.

Of course, Mr A was communicating with a clone of an authentic brokerage, whose real address was just around the corner. A modicum of due diligence, including a ‘Whois’ check, [had it not been judged illegal following that oh-so-wonderful GDPR], might have alerted him to what he was plunging into. Not once, but twice, he sent off vast sums of money, receiving in return worthless bonds.

“I was suffering from an illness at the time and, in retrospect, would probably not have fallen for this had I been up to par,” said Mr A. “But what really disappoints me is that, once I suspected there was a problem, the official barriers I came up against in trying to report the crime were unreal.

“My money had been transferred to a national bank; one branch in the Midlands and another in Yorkshire. I went firstly to a local branch of that bank. They refused to speak to me, of course, other than saying I should contact the police. I went to my local police station and was informed they were not allowed to deal with it. They advised me to get in touch with the police in Scotland and tell Action Fraud. I phoned Edinburgh Police who took my details. I then went online with Action Fraud and completed the forms. I heard nothing from either.

“Weeks later, I contacted Action Fraud again. I was told that my first report had evidently failed, but a subsequent one resulted in a crime number. That is all I have ever heard from Action Fraud. It is as though the issuing of a crime number ticks the box. Finito!

“Two months after I had spoken to Edinburgh Police, they called me to say that the address I had been given was false.” That was it . . . investigation over!

“I contacted IPFGB which specialises in fraud investigation,” continued Mr A. “Dick Smith told me he was already aware of this particular scam. The fake website had closed down and the likelihood of recovery two months after the event was highly unlikely. Furthermore, if the Police had acted promptly whilst the fraud was still operating and had used their powers to lawfully obtain data in relation to the use of phones, emails and the physical address, then there might have been a chance of catching someone and perhaps tracing the money.”

Despite the odds against success, Dick immediately conducted enquiries and spoke to a fraud manager with the genuine insurance company with which the cloned brokerage was associated. Dick takes up the story . . .
“The insurance manager confirmed this was a sophisticated fraud involving many victims and a huge amount of money. In addition, it had naturally had a damaging effect on their company reputation, and they had been forced to redirect legitimate business via another location. Yet the only contact he had received from the police was from the local Edinburgh foot-patrol officer who had been tasked to visit the false address and who couldn’t quite comprehend that the fraudster was certainly using a false name and did not actually work for the genuine company!
“There was, however, still a long-shot possibility of a break-through. Via a third party, Mr A was still in email contact with the fraudster and ostensibly set up a meeting with him in central Edinburgh the following day on the strength of introducing a new ‘investor’. Under the auspices of data protection, the police would only accept contact from the victim, not from a professional and experienced investigator engaged by him . . . how ridiculous is that? . . . thus, it was Mr A who notified them of the proposed meeting and the absolute urgency required. Their response?

Mr A is still waiting, now some four weeks later! As was feared from the outset, he has lost his family’s inheritance.
“What’s more, last August the Scottish Police pulled out of the highly criticised Action Fraud system of reporting,” added Dick. “So, on the strength of what happened to Mr A, there now appears to be no correlation between crimes in England and Wales committed by those purporting to be in Scotland, or vice versa. Is that not taking devolution too far?

“There are tools available to law enforcement which would equip them to rapidly investigate these crimes, [were they to possess the skill and the will]. Unfortunately, data protection legislation protects the criminal and obstructs not only the victims, but also those professionals to which the public is instinctively turning for expertise.”

All this comes at a period when the media is regularly reporting on police failings. “Fraudsters in Britain operate with impunity because the police are not adequately equipped to investigate them,” The Times comments. “No force can cope with the rapidly increasing number of cases and they are regularly handed to ‘unskilled investigators.’ Millions of victims are being failed and police staff say they can no longer work effectively to identify criminals and help bring them to justice.”

“[Fraud] is an area of crime that has grown hugely in recent years,” concluded the West Midlands PCC. “It is clear that policing needs to catch up with the criminals.”

Article submitted by Dick Smith QPM - Full Member F1520  of IP Forensic Ltd

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