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The faceless criminals stealing billions

President Paul Griffiths was recently invited to the City of London Police to discuss the threat of economic crime. He has released a blog, discussing this significant issue facing policing:

“Whilst our service navigates unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic, our attention is rightly focused on a new threat unlike anything we have faced before.

As our teams work to support our healthcare colleagues, whilst also protecting our communities, its important that we don’t forget to remain vigilant to the faceless crimes that will continue to operate, regardless of today’s unique context.

Earlier this month, I was pleased to be invited to meet with Commissioner Ian Dyson of the City of London Police – a force unlike any other in the country.

Responsible for policing within the City of London, it covers the historic centre and central business district.  It is the smallest territorial police force in England and Wales, policing a resident population of just 9,400, but works with a staggering level of crime affecting approximately 483,000 commuters working in the city, alongside thousands of tourists. 

Most of the demand faced by Commissioner Dyson’s teams is linked to economic crime. Statistics on this area will surprise many people, as it often goes unreported in the media and is vastly underestimated.  In reality, these figures reveal an enormous criminal industry, dealing in extreme sums of money and having significant impacts on vulnerable people.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that 3.6 million fraud offences occurred in England and Wales in 2018, which accounts for a third of all crime.  The estimated social and economic cost of fraud to individuals is £4.7 billion each year.

These ‘faceless’ criminals can target vulnerable people from anywhere behind a computer screen, and pose huge challenges for our service.

In January this year, a joint report between the City of London Corporation and City of London Police revealed that despite nearly 2,000 fraud offences being committed daily in England and Wales, just one in 50 is prosecuted. With a 15% increase in reported fraud cases last year, Sir Craig Mackay’s report states that “Fraudsters currently operate with impunity and renewed commitments are needed in the police service to take the fight back to them”.

These ‘renewed commitments’ must be formed on a better understanding of how these crimes are committed, how they are reported, and how our Service should deal with them when they cross over regional, national and international boundaries.

When I think back to my time training as a detective, crime investigation was focussed on a ‘victim, offender and location’ triangle. Now, when dealing with cyber-enabled crime, the ‘location’ can be unknown, or transient, so the model our service used to rely upon becomes redundant.

This issue is part of four main themes that have impacted on policing in the last decade:

  • Geographical boundaries are blurred or non-existent
  • Growth in technology has created different spheres of crime
  • Vulnerability is being identified in so many more areas
  • Policing has moved from the public to the private space, moving from ‘walking the beat’ to domestic and digital private areas.
There is impressive work underway to tackle the economic crime affecting us. In addition to the efforts of the City of London in leading the fight against economic crime, the National Crime Agency hosts the UK’s Financial Intelligence Unit, the National Economic Coordination Committee (NECC) and the National Assessment Centre (NAC).

A new national Economic Crime Plan has also been launched which sets out an aim for the public and private sectors to jointly deliver a holistic plan that defends the UK against economic crime, prevents harm to society and individuals, protects integrity of UK economy and supports legitimate growth.

Commissioner Dyson spoke passionately about the human impact these crimes involve.  An offender may target hundreds of people in a week, and know nothing about the source of the funds they are taking, but to a person or a family who have become a target, their lives can be forever changed.

It’s often difficult to bring ourselves back to this human element, when faced with these almost incomprehensible statistics. But this is what our service is based on. We protect people and communities, from any type of offending, and our job now is to speed up our work to respond to the rapid evolution in tech-enabled crime.”