By Alex Rothwell, Detective Superintendent, City of London Police
What, for you, are the benefits of attending a conference like the ‘Fraud and Financial Crime Europe’ and what have attendees learnt from your session?
No one individual or organisation can solve the challenge of financial crime so I’m in favour of all opportunities to share knowledge and experience and interact with peers. This conference brings together a really diverse range of speakers, many of whom are at the cutting edge of tackling the issues we face. On a personal level, I think it’s critical there is interaction between law enforcement and colleagues operating in the private sector. We rely on each other to keep the public and our businesses safe, but at times competing priorities and the general demands of running day-to-day activities make collaboration difficult.
My session focused on the national landscape for fraud, the threat posed to the UK and the challenges we face in tackling that threat. We shouldn’t be too pessimistic though, as there are many opportunities to improve. Some of those opportunities are happening now, others we are preparing for and some are aspirational. Success though, will depend on political will, our ability to collaborate – and perhaps a cultural shift, certainly within policing. One of the questions I posed is whether policing has a role to play in building a strong economy. Is that a by-product of our effort, or should it have more prominence?
From a policing perspective, what are some of the largest threats surrounding fraud?
Phrases such as ‘threat, risk and harm’, ‘safeguarding’ and ‘vulnerability’ are commonly used in the policing environment. Dealing with crime is only part of the police workload and non-crime demand (missing persons, dealing with people with mental health issues for example), has increased significantly in recent years. This, coupled with the effects of falls in police spending and officer numbers, has meant inevitable trade-offs and a requirement to prioritise. At the same time, we have seen fraud metamorphosise from an offence that was largely considered to be a corporate matter, to one that affects millions of citizens. ‘Volume Fraud’, as we in policing refer to it, is easy to overlook when taken on a case by case assessment, but the cumulative effect it has on our society and prosperity is starting to bite. Policing needs to find a way to tackle this threat and the answer is probably not through conventional means.
In your opinion, what are some of the key barriers to preventing fraudulent activity?
Where should I start? We have a much higher tolerance for fraud than other types of criminality. Many aspects of our lives have been greatly improved by innovation but it also brings risk. Perhaps we need to balance that risk more effectively against the reward.
There is a patchwork quilt of agencies and organisations operating in the sector. Policing certainly doesn’t have a monopoly over dealing with fraud, as perhaps it does with other crime. It also doesn’t carry the same regulatory oversight as money laundering or sanctions evasion and from a government perspective, that means there is a lack of governance.
The borderless nature of offending and the fact that intelligence and data is held in multiple locations also means that a true picture of the issue is difficult to obtain.
Can you give a brief insight into how policing has adapted to tackle new trends within fraud?
Although the system is far from perfect, our national reporting centre is the only one of its type in the world. It gives us a unique perspective of fraud affecting public and businesses in England and Wales. This allows us to direct investigative activity and target messaging. What many people don’t also realise though, is that it allows us to disrupt criminals, something which we do routinely.
Where as a nation we have invested in the Cyber threat (which is to a large extent driven by fraud), our approach to fraud has suffered from a lack of national coordination. That is changing now and with the introduction of the National Economic Crime Centre and a new fraud policing strategy, we have already seen the value of collaboration. I recently led a national campaign targeting an offence known as courier fraud. All police forces in England and Wales were involved and this type of coordinated approach is something we have historically been unable to perform, as our focus has been on other priorities.
Given your perspective, what do you think the future outlook is for fraud and financial crime?
The future looks bright. Whilst there are many issues for the Government of the day (and policing), we have a national economic crime plan to implement and I sense a real and genuine desire to make an impact. Some of the projects required to implement the plan will require considerable investment, so we will probably have to prioritise some areas over others. My colleagues and I are busy making the case that some of the investment required needs to be directed towards policing. If it is, I think we will be able to make significant inroads.