Review shows police 'short changing' fraud victims

Out-Law News | 09 Apr 2019 | 4:24 pm | 2 min. read

A critical review of the way in which UK law enforcement responds to reports of fraud underlines the importance of civil recovery routes for victims, an expert has said.

The report, by policing watchdog Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), found that victims of fraud did not always "receive the level of service they deserve" from police forces in England and Wales. The reviewers found that law enforcement tended to treat fraud cases as less of a priority, with inefficient processes and "unacceptably wide variations" in the quality of case handling.

The report acknowledged the resource constraints and competing priorities that police and law enforcement agencies had to deal with. However, it said that competing priorities "only make it more important that processes are efficient".

"[P]eople are more likely to be victims of fraud than any other crime," the report said.

"The current model of local investigations supported by national functions is the right one. And we have, as ever, found examples of some excellent work that is being done to tackle fraudsters and support their victims, particularly at a local level. But the police need a much more coordinated national approach with clear roles and responsibilities, clear operating procedures and a commitment to provide resources for the long term," it said.

Of the 11 police forces inspected by HMICFRS, only four were able to tell reviewers how many of the reports of fraud they received directly resulted in police activity. The reviewers also found a lack of awareness among investigators and their supervisors of central resources, such as the City of London Police's fraud investigation model and authorised professional practice guidance on fraud. In some cases, police forces actively sought out reasons not to investigate allegations of fraud in order to "reduce demand".

Civil fraud and asset recovery expert Michael Reading of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the findings of the report were "in line with our observations made over the last few years".

"Victims of fraud can often be left short changed by the response from the police," he said.

"Victims often report a fraud in expectation that the police will respond swiftly, increasing the likelihood of the victim making a recovery. But as HMICFRS' report sets out, that is sadly not the usual reality. Fraud investigations are usually slow to start even if there is compelling evidence against an identified fraudster. Sometimes, investigations are not even started at all. Why is the response often so poor? As one perceptive officer is reported to have told HMICFRS, 'fraud does not bang, bleed or shout'," he said.

"The report makes some sensible suggestions how law enforcement's response to fraud might be improved. Better police engagement, improved central guidance, increased police awareness of fraud issues, better developed victim support processes and more frequent use of already existing tools to combat fraud such as preventative and ancillary orders would be welcomed. The problem is that even if these suggestions are implemented, it is going to take some time before the green shoots of improvement come through," he said.

Reading said that victims should "carefully consider their civil litigation options before going to the police", until significant progress was made by law enforcement agencies against the recommendations made in the HMICFRS report.

"Often a civil claim gives victims the best chance of recovering monies lost to fraud quickly," he said.

"Civil fraud and recovery lawyers are able to react very quickly and can often seek a court order preventing a fraudster from dissipating his ill-gotten assets within a few days. As the HMICFRS report recognises, the police presently can take much longer before making any progress," he said.