Too many fraud victims still receive a “poor service” from police and are being denied justice, according to a watchdog.
People are more likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime and the problem has become worse during the coronavirus pandemic, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.
The inspectorate found the “detrimental effect of fraud is as great today as it has ever been” but it is still treated as a “low-priority or victimless crime”.
It comes as fraud and hacking soared during the pandemic as criminals “took advantage of behavioural changes” amid lockdowns and restrictions in England and Wales when there was a surge in online shopping leading to “substantial increases” in computer crimes, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Inspector of constabulary, Matt Parr, said: “You are still more likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime, but too few fraudsters are held to account.
“The scale of fraud has not diminished – in fact it has increased during the pandemic – and it needs to become more of a priority for police forces.”
While he praised “some pockets of good work” and the dedication to tackling the problem among forces, he warned: “Overall, too many victims of fraud still receive a poor service from the police.”
More officers should be working on fraud cases and there should be more investigations so victims receive the “service and the justice they are entitled to”, he added.
Inspectors reviewed progress made by police in tackling the crime since 2019, when it last looked at the issue. It found “not enough has changed” and the “fundamental problem is a disparity between the amount of work fraud creates for the police and the resources allocated to it”.
Because funding is only confirmed a year at a time, and with relatively short notice, it makes it difficult to plan and invest for the long term, the inspectorate said.
Official figures for the year to March show how Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, reported a 28% rise in fraud offences, from 312,035 in 2019/20 to 398,022 in 2020/21.
The data also revealed a 57% increase in “online shopping and auctions” fraud in the latest year (from 62,509 to 97,927 offences) and a 44% increase in “financial investment fraud” (from 14,024 to 20,260 offences).
And the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reported a 55% increase in “hacking – personal” offences referred by Action Fraud (from 3,481 to 5,390 offences).
This week, consumer group Which? suggested some fraud victims were being left without satisfactory support from banks, potentially leaving them exposed to future scams.
Meanwhile, according to KPMG UK’s Fraud Barometer, the number of alleged fraud cases being heard in UK courts in the first half of this year almost doubled compared to the same time in 2020.
The inspectorate report recommended that the National Police Chiefs’ Council, National Crime Agency, National Economic Crime Centre and City of London Police work together to establish better processes to tackle fraud and urged forces to adopt guidance for cases and improving information given to victims.