Just one in 500 frauds committed on people in England and Wales are being prosecuted by police despite a 20 per cent rise in the crime, new figures show.
Only 7,725 fraud offences resulted in a prosecution in the year to March 2019, down by 18 per cent from the 9,434 taken to court in the previous year, according to police figures.
This is dwarfed by the 3.8 million cases of fraud in the same year, a rise of a fifth on 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) crime survey, which is regarded as the most accurate assessment of people’s actual experience of crime.
However, the ONS says fewer than a sixth of these frauds are reported to police, largely because people are either ashamed at being conned or believe it is such a low priority crime for forces that it is unlikely to be investigated.
Of the 337,928 frauds reported to the national police unit Action Fraud in the year to March 2019, just 43,717 were referred to police forces for investigation because the remainder were judged to be unlikely to secure a conviction.
This initial sift is completed by a computer system known as the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau’s “NFIB brain,” which rates a crime on its chances of being solved and its potential “threat and harm to individuals, businesses or the economy as a whole,” according to Action Fraud.
Of the 52,371 frauds investigated by the 43 police forces in England and Wales last year - including some hanging over from previous years, 7,725 resulted in a charge or summons, a total of 14.8 per cent, the lowest rate since records began in 2016/17 when it was 21.9 per cent.
Commissioner Ian Dyson, of City of London Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for economic crime, said chief constables faced “difficult choices” on how much resource to devote to fraud when it was competing with human trafficking, child sexual exploitation and violent crime.
However, he warned: “It is increasingly clear that much of fraud is being perpetrated by serious and organised crime gangs.”
He said City of London Police, the lead force for fraud, was reviewing the way forces investigated crime from the initial report to prosecution. “Only then will we see clearly the police response to crime and be able to improve it, on behalf of victims,” he said.
“Far from being a victimless crime, fraud can undermine self-confidence and trust. And you’re far more likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime type. That’s why tackling fraud is so important.”
David McKelvey, a former detective chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police whose private investigations firm prosecutes counterfeiters, said the Government should outsource fraud investigations to private companies.
“There is no reason you could not outsource it to investigation companies who could put together prosecutions. It could be self-funding because there are assets that you can go after,” he said.
“Fraud has never been a priority. Forces are allowed to create their own policies that mean you would not investigate any fraud under £1 million.
“Any good villain knows that if you commit frauds then there is hardly any chance of getting caught. Even if you get caught, the chance of getting convicted are even less. And even if convicted you are not going to get a very substantial prison sentence.”
National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter said: “Police officers are doing the very best they can against a backdrop of cuts which have, in some places, crippled policing. It must also be pointed out that roughly 80% of police officers’ time is spent dealing with non-crime related incidents.
“Charging decisions for the majority of crimes are generally made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), not the police. What will drive these decisions is evidence, sometimes we simply don’t have enough to satisfy the CPS which is not only frustrating for victims but also for those police officers investigating the crimes.”