Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Mick Creedon QPM – Altia-ABM
Nick Downing – Chief Intelligence Officer for Cifas
Susan Frith – Chief Executive Officer at NHSCFA
Prof Michael Levi – Professor of Criminology at Cardiff University

Sponsored by Altia-ABM

Key points

Nick Downing notes that the challenge of financial crime is massive, not only are financial crimes the largest volume crime type, but it includes a group of offences that are growing exponentially and they remain under reported. Fraudsters have been diverted by new opportunities created in the pandemic, looking at Zoom, exploiting the vulnerable working from home by for example, offering people the opportunity to make easy money, or leading them to believe they have won something. Government schemes, local and national, offering relief to people have been introduced speedily with limited due diligence, they have been the target of fraudsters. He calls for a refrain from victim blaming; for collective responsibility and everyone playing a part in the response; more and better training of investigators; different agencies working as one; and related to this eliminating the barriers to information sharing (which are human made). He calls for a simple message to engage all people and groups and for recognised leadership from the highest levels to steer the response.

Susan Frith notes that financial offences are largely hidden crimes where victims often do not find out about their victimisation until long after the offence has taken place. The National Health Service response to Covid-19 related offences has been slow as staff have been directed to frontline healthcare; it has complicated the process of getting engagement on financial crime responses. Susan argues the losses are in billions, and they know it is growing. Echoing Nick’s point above, she underlines the importance for speedy responses, and one such area is in procurement, where the rush to buy (for example PPE) has resulted in limited fraud oversight and made the process an attractive target for offenders. On the positive side there has been some collaboration across the public sector recognising that any crisis, not just this one, is an opportunity for fraudsters. Susan laments recent judicial responses to getting money back from offenders, albeit sees this as a good route to go with appropriate processes in place.

Professor Mike Levi starts by predicting the onset of an economic crime winter albeit not specifically because of Covid-19, although that is adding some new dimensions of fraud to the wider problem, for example identity fraud, intimidation of home workers, and gives an example of a scam subscription for a tv licence; offenders adapt quickly. He notes that defining the size of the problem is not the main priority now, and in a discussion about the key principles of the response he emphasises the need to make use of data and to act quickly. You will find Mike’s comments on why the rather attractive idea of retrieving money from offenders is in practice fraught with difficulties and this includes the human made problem, the difficulty of getting asset freezing orders. On the positive side he discusses some positive proposals to remedy the situation.  Although offenders are ahead they are doing things we know about, the key focus points are: to plug the known gaps; to engage the public in what to do, many don’t know; and shift to a strategic approach less driven by newspapers and more by data. And he calls for responses to be evaluated.

Mick Creedon emphasises that some types of Government help have been easier to obtain than a pizza; don’t be surprised then if financial offenders run rife. As he points out offenders are adaptable, they have made money from horse meat and face marks; we have been warned. Given this, and that the costs will be astronomical, he makes a call for more public reassurance. Extending the risk areas discussed previously he highlights areas such as cyber crime, counterfeit and substandard goods, modern slavery and child exploitation. He also discusses the intrinsic risks of relying on informants to determine the focus of investigations (that they may purposefully distract investigators), and while intelligence led investigations are always preferred in practice the evidence is not always obvious; the information available can be overwhelming; and making sense of intelligence can be tricky. Mick too highlights the need for investigators to be better trained, offenders move fast and investigators need to do so too.

This webinar confirms financial offenders have been provided with new and attractive targets while still having many old ones and that the implications are still to be fully discovered. There are some specific ideas for responding not all of which are costly. They do though require the political will, at a high level, to act, and that appears to be a gap that still needs a recognised champion.

Martin Gill
18th August 2020