Detecting and Preventing Fraud: A Q&A with the National Head of Action Fraud

Jessica Kimbell, GovNet
June 24, 2019

What are the most common types of fraudulent activity you come across in your role?

Online shopping and Auction Fraud, Cheque, Plastic Card and Online Bank Accounts, Other Advance Fee Fraud, Computer Software Service fraud are the most common types of fraud. However, anyone can become a victim of fraud – individuals, SMEs, large corporates, charities, and public sector organisations. Fraudsters are deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. People who are elderly, lonely, in debt or have mental health problems. They repeatedly target victims, sharing details of the susceptible and vulnerable across criminal networks.

How important are awareness campaigns in preventing fraud?

Fraud affects more of us, more often, than any other crime in the UK  with 3.4 million offences were recorded in the Crime Survey of England & Wales, however, 80% of fraud and cybercrime is estimated to be preventable. I am a great believer that prevention is the most effective way to address fraud and cybercrime. We work with our partners on the Multi Agency Campaign Group to develop messaging to raise awareness of fraud, provide crime prevention advice and to reduce victim losses. There remains a misconception that fraud is a victimless crime. We know, however, that it can be a life changing event for victims, with real impact on their quality of life and emotional well-being. Our campaigns help to increase reporting to ensure we can understand the true threat picture and ensure we are saying the right things, to the right people, at the right time. Use information reported to create products for police and other law enforcement agencies, including crime packages, victim and force profiles to give a statistical analysis of crime trends in each force area.

 What are the most significant challenges regarding the prevention of fraud amongst the general public?

Fraud varies significantly in respect of complexity and harm. An effective police response requires national coordination with capabilities to prevent and investigate fraud at all levels. 70% of fraud has a cyber element and communities are being targeted by criminals from both the UK and abroad. This requires new skills and tactics within policing, international cooperation and intelligence sharing across sectors. In 2013 Action Fraud was receiving on average some 10,000 reported crimes per month. This has risen steadily and has now tripled to more than 30,000 frauds per month. Policing does not have the resources to investigate every single fraud report. However, every report is used to identify opportunities to prevent future victimisation and build a picture of threats and criminals which may result in an investigation in the future. The current understanding of fraud is limited by under-reporting. Action Fraud receives over 700,000 contacts a year but fraud is still under reported which makes it challenging to grasp the true nature and scale of the problem. People are increasingly leading busier lives. Fraudsters take advantage of this time squeeze and target people’s vulnerabilities.

What partnerships have Action Fraud established across the public sector to enhance the effectiveness and reach of their activities?

Enhance understanding of cyber crime through working in partnership with other law enforcement agencies and apply proactive intelligence and prevention strategies to address it. We work closely with and support other partner agencies in their efforts to combat economic crime. Our Economic Crime Academy is a centre of excellence that educates and up-skills individuals and businesses across public and private sectors, enabling them to identify and combat fraud. We regularly engage with partners across the public sector to determine their priorities around tackling fraud. Continue to work with stakeholders, including the National Crime Agency, and the wider regional, national and international counter-fraud community to protect the City and national interests, and tackle criminals overseas that target the UK. Contribute to the national understanding of fraud threats and criminality and developing proactive intelligence and prevention strategies to address it. We work closely with partner agencies, including Children’s Social Care, Adult Social Care and Mental Health Services to support vulnerable people who might come into contact with the police. We work with government bodies, academia, industry and victim champions to develop practical understanding of the victimology and of the technological enablers for fraud.

What can other public sector bodies do to enhance their fraud detection and prevention mechanisms?

The threat and risks of fraud and corruption are ever evolving and can quickly develop into new and complex fraud attacks and as such our response to countering fraud needs to be dynamic. Whilst different public bodies have different structures and policies, the threat they face from fraud is remarkably similar. There is a great benefit in public sector bodies coming together to share good practices and solutions to this common issue. Crucially, we want to look ahead to identify emerging threats before they impact on the City of London and the rest of the UK. Organisations should continually adapt to the changing nature of the threat, and the changing nature of their own businesses. Understand the major risks and threats. Ensure they have a cohesive fraud strategy in place to identify measurable outcomes which show the performance and activity of fraud and corruption control in the business. It is crucial to policing that all fraud is reported whenever it happens to them. Unfortunately, some public sector bodies currently still feel either unable or unwilling to report the high volume of fraud they are experiencing. Explore the use of data and analytics to detect potential fraud and introduce clear reporting routes for those who could report fraud. There should be processes in place, supported by senior leaders, to enable people to safely report concerns about internal fraud.

How do you think fraud is going to evolve over the next decade, and what can the public sector do to best prepare for this?

The technological revolution means that the nature and scale of public sector fraud is always changing. The advent of the digital age has driven this evolution at an even greater pace. Today’s criminals are increasingly turning to fraud and the use of cyber technology rather than get involved in traditional ‘physical’ crime. Modern criminals are targeting victims across boundaries simultaneously and, through the internet, automating their crimes and continuing to exploit victims for extended periods remotely. Data breaches continue to be a key enabler of fraud. Personal and financial information obtained in a breach can be used to commit frauds affecting individuals, the private and public sectors alike. By harvesting personal and financial information through data breaches, criminals are able to commit fraud and damage people, businesses and services. The good news is that collectively we are fighting back and the City’s own police force is at the forefront of the response to this challenge, both in the Square Mile and across the UK. Organisations must be agile as well as adaptable and change their approach to deal with these evolutions. Organisations cannot expect to be able to develop fraud detection and prevention mechanisms overnight. It takes time to build and cultivate, to develop the skills and understanding of the business, necessary to effectively fight fraud. Organisations should look to identify what can be implemented quickly, but recognise that building an effective response will be an ongoing process. Fighting fraud is not a one off cost, it requires an ongoing investment that should be maintained and is consummate with the scale of risk and threat that business faces.