RUTH SUNDERLAND: Each and every one of us in this country is subjected to a daily deluge of fraud… It’s time to declare war on callous scammers

There is one innovative, fast-growing industry in which the UK is the undisputed global leader and where we are seeing dramatic, unchecked expansion. It’s just a shame the multi-billion-pound-a-year activity happens to be fraud. 

When it comes to fraud, the UK is a centre of excellence – as the investigation by this newspaper has proved. But why? What has turned Britain into Fraud Island? 

At core, it is that fraudsters know they can carry on their despicable trade with little chance of detection, let alone punishment. Our anti-fraud regime is woefully unfit for purpose. 

Each and every one of us in this country is subjected to a daily deluge of fraud through our letter boxes, phones and computer screens. 

It is not just the elderly and vulnerable who succumb: many rip-off merchants are so clever they are capable of taking in anyone. However intelligent and aware someone is, a moment’s inattention can have ruinous, life-changing consequences. 

RUTH SUNDERLAND: When it comes to fraud, the UK is a centre of excellence – as the investigation by this newspaper has proved. But why? What has turned Britain into Fraud Island? (stock image)  

Proceeds of fraud are used by international gangs to fund drug deals, terrorism, child prostitution and human trafficking. Scams that start in the UK with a phone call to an elderly widow are just one link in an international chain of depravity. 

Yet the authorities have not done nearly enough to ward off this epic crimewave. The system that is supposed to safeguard us is fragmentary, starved of resources and outmoded. 

There seems little awareness that criminals today do not need a balaclava, sawn-off shotgun and a getaway van to rob a bank: they can drain innocent people’s bank accounts armed with nothing more than a phone and a laptop. 

The banks are often blamed, rightly, for not doing enough to support account-holders. At least, though, they are trying to stem the rising tide, and it is costing them billions. 

Treasury minister Lord Agnew pictured as he resigned earlier this year in disgust over the affair, claimed the Government has ‘little interest in the consequences of fraud in our society’

That is more than can be said for online giants such as Facebook and Google, or leading telecoms companies, which refuse to accept any responsibility for crimes committed through their platforms. This is not acceptable.

We may rightly fear violence and quail at the prospect of being physically mugged or burgled, but our chances of being fleeced by a fraudster are far, far greater than either. Yet only a tiny fraction of police resources is dedicated to stopping these revolting criminals. 

The pandemic and the cost of living crunch have created a perfect breeding ground for fraud. Lockdowns led to millions of novice users of online banking and shopping who are easy prey for villains. The downturn in the economy is likely to lead to another explosion. 

But despite the prevalence of fraud, there is no single authority charged with fighting it. A cat’s cradle of more than 20 different police, government and other organisations are involved, which is a recipe for confusion and buck-passing. 

At all levels right up to major league corporate wrongdoing, the system is dysfunctional. The Serious Fraud Office, whose history is littered with botched cases, is currently under fire over its handling of an alleged bribery scandal at energy consultancy Unaoil. 

This pie chart shows the estimated proportion of money paid under the bounce back loan scheme that won’t be paid back and has been lost to fraud 

The authorities are simply not taking fraud seriously enough. The cavalier attitude toward risks in the Covid loan scheme for small firms is a case in point. So-called Bounce Back loans of between £2,000 and £50,000 were issued at breakneck speed, in some cases without even the most rudimentary checks. As a result, the Government reckons taxpayers could be hit with £17billion of losses for fraud and collapses. 

Treasury minister Lord Agnew, who resigned earlier this year in disgust over the affair, claimed the Government has ‘little interest in the consequences of fraud in our society’. 

That attitude must change. Banks must be forced to compensate all innocent fraud victims, as should tech giants and telephone companies if people are entrapped by rip-offs that have appeared on their platforms. 

The mishmash of different agencies should be consolidated into one powerful body, overseen by a minister for fraud. 

We must declare all-out war on the fraudsters, right now. 

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