‘We are the ones who tackle the scammers’
In a bright, air-conditioned office in the City of London, rows of smartly dressed people sit working intently at computer screens. A man with spectacles and a furrowed brow is studying a complicated-looking graph that fills his screen.
Unlike so many others in the City, he isn’t trying to make sense of the balance sheet of a major corporation or assess claims for an insurance company: he is analysing a bank account flagged as potentially fraudulent, mapped out in a web linking it to scores of crime reports, names and addresses.
He is one of around 90 people working in the National Fraud Investigation Bureau (NFIB). Part of the City of London Police, this is where, if you are unlucky enough to fall victim to scammers, your report will be assessed according to the likelihood of the culprit being caught.
Fraud is a rapidly escalating problem in Britain and, along with cybercrime, now accounts for around half of all crime recorded.
Last year, Action Fraud, the national centre for reporting scams, received 466,000 calls either to report a crime or to volunteer information.
All too often victims of fraud tell Telegraph Money that they feel abandoned by the police or that Action Fraud is “useless”. If you report an incident online and don’t receive a response for a month it is easy to feel this way.
But, to try to prove that they do care, the police invited Telegraph Money to the NFIB’s office to peer behind the curtain at the way they work. Here’s what we discovered. There are nearly as many different types of fraud as there are fraudsters. Members of the public are being tricked into sending money to fake builders, conveyancers, and even lovers.
Unless a report is urgent – if you find yourself caught up in an ongoing scam that could be stopped immediately, for example – it should be reported to Action Fraud rather than your local police force. This can be done over the phone or online using a webchat service.
If you call, you will be put through to one of Action Fraud’s 80 phone operators based in Scotland. They are not investigators but will collect the basic information and enter it into a database, so the NFIB can access your file later.
Detective Sergeant Alex Eristavi, a senior officer in the NFIB, said many people did not realise that Action Fraud did not investigate crimes itself. It is a body that collects reports to pass on to the police.
The call operator will assess the claim to ensure that it is sent to the correct place and that the victim is treated appropriately if, for example, they are considered to be especially vulnerable. Once the details have been
taken they will be sent to the NFIB, after which Action Fraud cannot access the report again.
The first part of the NFIB’s process is automatic. The details go through a “balance of probability test” to weigh the chances of the case being solved.
Part of this is derived from its “viability” and a score is given on the basis of whether a number of pieces of key evidence are available. These include a suspect’s name, date of birth, address, bank account details and other personal data.
Without any of these, a case will be almost impossible to solve, but even the trickiest are never abandoned.
“Do you think we can read 30,000 reports? I’d be lying if I said we could,” Det Sgt Eristavi said. “We have to prioritise what we can solve, but we don’t take these decisions lightly.
“Just because a case doesn’t make it through, it doesn’t get binned. It stays on the system, which may rescore it later on based on a new report, and it would then go through.”
Once a case makes it through the automated system it will be reviewed
Huge numbers of frauds are being reported every day. Figures from the banking trade body UK Finance show that last year there were more than 43,000 reports of bank transfer fraud alone. Many cases are never reported, perhaps because the victims do not realise they have been defrauded or are simply too embarrassed to say anything.
Law firm Pinsent Masons said recently that police cuts were having an impact on the ability to secure prosecutions for white-collar crimes.
Last year one of the Metropolitan Police’s most senior officers warned that specialist units would have to close if more funding was not made available.
Det Sgt Eristavi said dealing with the sheer number of cases was a challenge, but he was stoical about the impact of cuts.
“The challenge is the number of reports of fraud coming in. The volumes are massive – I think there’s probably no one in the country who hasn’t experienced fraud themselves or through a family member,” he said.
“It is what it is. We have the staff we are given and we manage.”
To report a suspected scam, go to actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud. Find out more about what to do if you believe you’ve been scammed at telegraph.co.uk/go/fraud.
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