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Fraud is the most common crime type and is believed to account for 39% of all crime in England and Wales. In 2021/22 there were over 1 million reports of fraud nationally which is an increase of 14.7% on 2020/21 with 83% of fraud being cyber enabled. The highest harm fraud related offence threats for 2022/23 are Courier, Romance, Payment Diversion, Investment, and frauds linked to card and online bank accounts. The total losses to victims of fraud in the UK for 2021/22 is £2.46bn, up from 2.35bn in 2020/2021.
The Serious Crime Directorate (SCD) manages serious organised crime in relation to fraud, money laundering, economic crime, and cyber-crime. The Serious Economic Crime Unit (SECU) comprises a Fraud Triage Team (FTT), Financial Intelligence Team (FIT), Economic Crime Team (ECT) and Serious Fraud Team (SFT). Support is provided by the Proceeds of Crime Team (POC Team), which manages court orders, asset recovery and cash seizures.
Fraud is reported to the force in two ways:
Action Fraud (AF) – The national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime. The service is run by the City of London Police (CoLP) alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which is responsible for assessing and allocating investigations. The force cannot influence what crimes are allocated for investigation and can only suggest a victim reports the crime to Action Fraud, we cannot report it for them.
Call for service – which covers the following:
Most of the fraud and Cyber reports go via AF. These reports are filtered to the NFIB and then allocated to the appropriate force. They are classified as either Pursue or Protect. The pursue crimes are assessed by the FTT who will carry out desk-based investigation and assess for viable lines of enquiry. Where further investigation is required, the report is allocated into one of the SECU investigation teams as appropriate. Calls for service are allocated from the Force Control Room to a Divisional resource and investigated by the appropriate resource, depending on complexity. Those investigations which require a specialist service such as rogue trader series, romance fraud, mandate frauds, investment/boiler room frauds, professional enablers will go to the ECT.
Current resourcing comprises the following:
Fraud Triage Team – 1 x DS and 5 x PC/DC posts
Financial Intelligence Team – 4 x FIO posts
Economic Crime Team – 2 x DS and 10 x DC/IO posts
Serious Fraud Team – 1 x DS and 7 x DC/IO posts – 1 x DS and 7 x DC/IO posts.
DI Post x 1
Prevent and Protect – 1x P&P Officer and 3 x Fraud Prevention Co-ordinators who are based on the three Divisions.
Nationally, Kent is ranked 8th highest for victim referrals per 1,000 population (improvement from 7th in 2020/21) with an estimated reported loss of £40.9 million in the past year (down from £49.5m in 2020/21). In 2016/17, Kent had 7,860 victims of fraud recorded by the NFIB. By the year 2021/22 this had risen to 11,468 demonstrating a continuous rise over this period. In the past two years the number of reports to AF nationally have reduced with a return to pre-pandemic levels and Kent has experienced a similar decline. In 2022 every crime category has experienced a reduction except for Fraud offences which have recorded an overall increase of 1% nationally in 2022 and the trend for a year-on-year increase is expected to continue.
The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) has the highest number of reported fraud offences in the country outside of London. Within that region Kent has almost equal demand to that of Essex Police. The total demand for Kent Police equates to 24% of the entire ERSOU region. Over the past five years calls for service have increased in line with the overall rise in fraud. This trend has continued and there was a 38% increase in 2021/22 from 2020/21. The upward trajectory in demand is expected to continue.
Kent Police received 13,310 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) from financial institutions in 2020/21. By 2021/22 this had increased to 18,966 which is a 43% increase. Due to a temporary reduction in staff, Kent Police is currently unable to proactively review these reports for criminality or vulnerability due to staff vacancies. Incorporated within SARs are Defence Against Money Laundering (DAML) notifications which highlight activity that financial institutions or other regulated services believe relates to their clients being directly involved in money laundering. In line with other law enforcement agencies Kent Police rarely investigate these reports beyond initially checking for obvious criminality or vulnerability of those involved. In the future, if capacity increases, more in depth in investigations relating to DAML notifications could potentially be pursued.
The most prevalent fraud crime types in Kent replicate those nationally:
Nationally, there has been a rise in investment-based fraud of 18% and this increase is replicated in Kent where we have had a 23% increase in 2021/22 from 2020/21. The SFT is currently investigating more than £85 million of losses within these crime types and other similar crimes. SECU are currently managing five OCG of the 60 mapped OCGs in Kent. In 2021/22 SECU recorded 31 recorded disruptions against them.
An example of a case that demonstrates our relentless pursuit of those involved in organised crime and fraud involved an OCG concerned in rogue trading and fraud offences, including impersonating a police officer, where victims had lost significant sums of money to the group. The group are active in Kent, London, Surrey, and Sussex and target vulnerable victims and have successfully defrauded victims of significant sums of money. In addition to the targeting of the four principal offenders, there were several ‘money mules’ who Kent Police have charged with money laundering offences. Their trial has been delayed to 2024 and there will be 14 defendants.
In 2022, Kent Police Officers saw a principal member of an OCG, driving a high value Porsche vehicle. The vehicle was seized, and a money laundering investigation commenced where investigations identified the individual had sold land to neighbours for £115,000. A restraining order was issued for the land and two bank accounts which presently remain subject of a Proceeds Of Crime Act (POCA) investigation.
Our judicial rates (defined as a charge or caution) are low when compared to the national average but have improved in the past 12 months. This is due to several factors; firstly, up to 2020, IMU were not recording the relevant reference number within the crime record, this meant we were not providing returns to CoLP with relevant outcomes which has been resolved but we are still working through a backlog of reports. Around 25% of all SECU active cases are with CPS for review and charging advice, this includes some investigations carried out by the SFT which relate to large numbers of returns. As an example, one police operation which was submitted to CPS after four years investigation relates to over 500 victims. Although not all of those have a dedicated NFIB number, many will and when we receive the charging advice, we can provide a return. The force has several similar cases.
The Prevent and Protect Team (P&P) is managed within SCD, separately to SECU. Within the team there is one dedicated P&P Officer and three Divisionally embedded Fraud Coordinators. With the Coordinators being based on Divisions they can provide prompt and effective safeguarding to vulnerable victims using the victim data from NFIB which is provided weekly. They work closely with their Community Safety Units to stop further victimisation. They take a proactive role identifying vulnerable people, putting safeguarding in place to protect them from further harm, working with partner agencies to achieve this.
An example of a case that the team have worked on since 2021 involves a number of Fraud Co-ordinators who have worked with a vulnerable victim of fraud who was scammed after receiving calls on their mobile telephone which led to them losing over £90k. Physical visits to the victim by the co-ordinator identified several vulnerabilities which led to them being a victim of fraud. They worked with the victim so they could understand how the situation had developed. The co-ordinators helped the victim understand that the ‘investment’ they had made was a scam and that their bank account had been used to launder criminal money. Over several months, the co-ordinator worked with the banking sector, to reduce the access the victim had to large sums of money and also worked closely with Health Services, Adult Services, the Force Vulnerable Investigations Teams and the victim’s family. The multi-agency approach means the safeguards are now in place which protect the victim from further harm whilst fraud investigations continue.
Communication plays a significant role in the prevention and reporting of fraud offences. The team play an important proactive role in attempts to reduce the number of economic crime victims in Kent. In 2022 they sent out 401 advisory Tweets which had 1.5 million views. Additionally, the Kent Fraud Alert System (KFAS) sent 114 alerts; each of these reached an estimated audience of more than 150,000.
Courier Fraud remains one of the greatest threats and in response to this the P&P team have created a nationally recognised trigger response. If three or more similar crimes are reported within a geographical area, notifications are sent to users via the ‘My Community Voice’ application and through partners in UK Finance to make local banks aware and to be vigilant to potentially vulnerable people in the area seeking to withdraw suspicious levels of cash from their accounts.
The force response plan to Courier Fraud is seen as national best practice and has been replicated in other forces. The Romance Fraud questionnaire Kent officers and staff use was designed by staff from the SECU and P&P Team. It is designed to help victims understand they are a victim of this crime type. Often victims do not recognise they are subject of a scam due to the grooming process they have been subjected to over months if not years. The force work with them and often family members using the questionnaire as a basis of the discussions that are had with them. The questionnaire has also been recognised as national best practice and is promoted by the CoLP for use by other police forces.