2010 – Better Opportunities For The Smaller Fraudster?

I read with some concern an article in this Sunday’s papers about the plans of City of London Police Economic Crime Unit for the coming year. Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Head is on record saying ‘…as with the drugs trade, there is little point picking up a lot of small fry while the big operators get off free…I want to concentrate on maybe five very big fraudsters in place of 20 smaller ones…’

I agree that the big fraudsters should be targetted a lot more than they are. The whole concept of fraud is that it is a hidden crime and many organised criminals are currently getting away with various fraud scams big time. Yes, a lot of them get caught eventually, most having run for between three and five years. An awful lot of damage is being done to our economy in that time, which can ill afford it in the current climate. There are many fraudsters that do not get caught – or worse still, the authorities are unable to act fully or effectively, such is the complexity of the scam being perpetrated.

But there is a huge raft of smaller frauds taking place. Fraud is endemic in our society of high taxes and consumer excesses. If you thought that the ‘under table’ economy was restricted to third world countries or other less advanced administrations, you were wrong. Our society is as corrupt as any other, just that we are more circumspect.

Systematic tax evasion occurs, where workers are encouraged to claim benefits and not pay tax by their employers so that the wages bill can be less. These are the sort of companies that trade for a year or two, closing down and then starting up under a new name and very likely leaving a few unpaid bills behind them. These are the businesses that steer clear of any professional help, from lawyers and accountants who have a legal obligations to shop them to the authorities that overides any professional duty of confidentiality. In this way the Anti Money Laundering Regulations are missing a large proportion of the illegitimate cash that is being circulated and tax that is being avoided.

Add to this the wide ranging stress and hardship that is caused by the smaller frauds that come to light. Old people are duped out of their savings by an unscrupulous carer, small businesses go to the wall when the bookkeeper embezzles the funds needed for next month’s wage bill and individuals risk their dwindling pension funds in an attempt to provide for their families future. The fraudster does not care about the hardship he or she is causing, and for every ‘big fraudster’ systematically skimming millions, there are a thousand con men and scam merchants earning much less but nevertheless causing immense harm to innocent people.

If the City of London is upping the size of the frauds it targets, I hope this is not the pattern around the country. Already the small fraud is too easy to commit, and the chances of the local police investigating are remote. Not only do they not have the resources to investigate, they also lack the will because their performance is measured by dealing with more ‘serious’ crime like murder, rape, burgelary and social nuisance. I agree that these are areas that need continued attention, but should rank alongside fraud when bidding for funding from central government.

Instead of attempting to budget a limited sum of money, and cutting back on fraud, attempts should be made to discover how much money would be needed to establish a comprehensive fraud resource and then worry about funding it! I know that if this resource was established, the level of asset recovery of criminal proceeds of crime would escalate substantially and not only provide self sustaining funding for economic crime units, but also contribute to compensating the victims of fraud for their losses! I just hope that there will continue to be funding for at least some work for forensic accountants – forensic accounting is the only efficient way to unpick the financial records behind some of the more complex frauds that are detected.

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