April 25 2020: Please read this article in conjunction with a new piece published today for update and clarification following contact from the Met Police:
THE Met Police has lost two thirds of its specialist finance investigators over the past decade as fraud has risen to become the single biggest crime type the UK is facing.
The Met Police confirmed it currently has just 30 financial investigators, more than 61 down on the 91 it had in post in 2007/08, while fraud has mushroomed over the same period.
(Above image: www.freeimages.co.uk)
One in ten of us will be victims of a serious scam within six years if police don't start taking the growing menace of fraud seriously, a National Crime Agency (NCA) chief warned.
Ben Russell, deputy director of the NCA National Economic Crime Unit, said fraud has become the biggest single crime facing the UK, but it is way down on most police force priority lists.
He said: "Fraud is over a third of crime in this country and less than one per cent of our response.
"If we continue to do nothing different by 2026, there will be over five million frauds happening in the UK, that's effecting one in every ten people."
A former Met Police detective, who remains close to serving officers, said: "The way it works now is there is so much fraud that many frauds, even involving big numbers, just don't get investigated.
"Police refer people to Action Fraud, which doesn't pass all the reports onto police.
"Of those that do get passed on only a fraction get investigated. The Met Police has lost so many financial investigators now it just doesn't have the people to reach more than the tip of the ice berg."
SCAM: Cyber criminals have taken advantage of the coronavirus crisis to try to snare more victims
Since the coronavirus lockdown began three weeks ago police have reported that overall crime has dropped by around 20 per cent, but there has been a rise in cyber fraud, including some specifically related to the Covid-19 virus.
Organised crooks have set up websites to sell an array of items such as surgical masks and other safety equipment that never arrives or even fake tests, vaccines and cures for the virus.
There were an estimated 3.8 million incidents of overall fraud in the year ending September 2019, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year.
According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, reported losses nationally increased by 38 per cent in the same year to £2.2 billion.
Online dating scams saw mainly women lose a combined £60 million during 2019.
Mr Russell said Action Fraud, which is run by the City of London Police, receives hundreds of thousands of reports of fraud from the public each year, with more suspicious activity reports filed by businesses and the banking sector.
Action Fraud does not investigate crimes but sifts out which frauds to refer to the appropriate investigators such as police forces, HMRC, trading standards, the Insolvency Service or the Serious Fraud Office
DECLINE: Fraud investigators have dropped under leadership of Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick
Despite the growing problem of fraud, online scams and cyber crime, the Met Police said it has no set target of how many financial investigators it hopes to employ as part of a national drive to recruit 20,000 more new officers over the next two years.
There is understood to be a similar trend for a reduction in financial investigators across most of the country's police forces due to the cuts, and changing priorities to focus on violent crime and human trafficking.
The Met Police figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).
The FOI response added that some officers, who were not accredited financial investigators, could still investigate fraud and economic crimes.
It said: "There is no (financial investigator) target within the current recruitment drive.
Due to the many organisational changes over the decades/years, it is possible there are more officers/staff carrying out financial investigations as part of their investigations and daily roles, which is not always captured on the system as it may not be their primary role/function.
Warning: Ben Russell says one in ten of us will become victims if fraud is not taken seriously (NCCU)
"We cannot make comparisons between the years because job roles and functions have changed so much throughout the years. It is possible we have more employees carrying out this job than has been captured on the system as it may not be their primary role."
A National Police Chiefs’ Council Spokesman said: “Fraud competes in the policing environment with other serious crime types such as violent crime and counter-terrorism, and the pursuit of those responsible through court is only one part of the solution.
"A successful and sustainable response to fraud means we must work collectively across law enforcement, industry and with the public to address the threat.
"Resourcing and prioritisation of demand is a matter for individual chief constables.
"An increase in officer numbers in the coming years will help us to provide a better service to victims, and ease the pressure on our people."
Mr Russell warned it had to be taken more seriously.
He added: "We need to close the gap between the over 30 per cent of the crimes and the one per cent of our response and that means making difficult choices about resourcing, around capacity and about prioritisation."