EXCLUSIVE: Drug dealers 'turn to fraud to avoid risk of death or jail but still make as much cash'
DRUG dealers are turning to fraud as the risk of death or lengthy prison terms from being involved in supplying class A substances continues to increase.
Many criminals have decided threats of violence from rival gangs or having drugs and cash seized and being jailed in police raids means it is no longer worth the risk, according to a senior police source.
He said some crooks could make as much money or more through cyber crimes and fraud, which have increased in scale since the coronavirus lockdowns, with a lower custody threshold if caught.
A recent wave of drug raids, arrests and seizures, which followed the law enforcement hack of the Encrochat mobile communication system, has also forced many into a "change of career," he said.
VIOLENCE: Police are seizing more firearms and blades associated with drug dealing (Met Police)
The source said: "A lot of organised criminals have worked out they can make as much money sitting behind a computer or getting someone else to do it.
"Guns and knives are routinely used by anyone in the coke and heroin trades now from a kid of 15 upwards, so the risk of serious injury or death has never been so high and could be over from a minor debt.
"Criminal networks involved in fraud are less likely to cross paths, so that's one problem solved.
"Drugs is a police priority and the amount of Encrochat raids put the wind up a lot of people who have never seen so much stock go missing and people lifted."
ENCRYPTED? The Encrochat system security was breached by investigators this year (Encrochat)
This spring French and Dutch investigators cracked the Encrochat encryption to discover it was being used by 60,000 criminals worldwide - 10,000 of which were operating in the UK.
They allowed police forces across Europe real time access to messages between organised crime gangs, which led to an ongoing series of raids which have seen more than 1,000 people arrested across the UK.
Some of the messages intercepted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) showed the frustration of criminals at so much of their supplies being taken with some conceding the NCA had "become too powerful."
RAID: There has been an upsurge in police raids since the Encrochat hack (Met Police)
But, with more gangs moving into fraud police will face an uphill struggle combating it, admitted our source.
He said: "We say fraud is a priority, but the truth is it isn't. The Action Fraud reporting system is a way to screen out crimes and reduce the amount of fraud that has to be investigated."
Some frauds, even serious ones, may never be investigated, so that reduces the prison risk, and there is minimal stuff that can be seized."
IMPROVEMENTS: Lynne Owens admitted there was a lack of coherence in response to fraud (NCA)
Fraud is now the single biggest crime type in the UK and makes up a third of all recorded offences, with large amounts of underreporting suspected.
There are fears that there is simply too much fraud taking place for investigators to be able to tackle.
Lynne Owens, NCA Director General, admitted at the recent Police Superintendents' annual conference, held online, that the agency needs to improve its response to fraud and cyber crimes.
She said: "I could point to our lack of coherence in the response to victims of fraud – which now makes up around a third of all crime.
"Or the fact that the country’s investigative Team Cyber is funded through a separate and short term stream."
Ms Owens said a key NCA aim was to improve its response to financial crime.
ARRESTED: Essex Police rounded up 19 people over drug supply this month (Essex Police)
She said: "This means taking more action against the highest-harm criminals and online fraudsters in the UK, making sure that crime doesn’t pay by seizing assets from them.
"We want to target corrupt global elites who abuse the financial system, ensuring the UK is the safest place to invest and its institutions more resilient to hostile states and cyber-crime."
Meanwhile, raids in the wake of the Encrochat hack continue to take place.
Earlier this month police raided the addresses of 19 people suspected of being involved in a vast drug supply network across Essex and Suffolk that was laundering its proceeds through cryptocurrency.
The group, allegedly headed by a pub landlord from Harlow, who was among those held, was said to have communicated via the encrypted platform.
One drug dealer, who has operated in London for several years, and has spent three years in prison as a result, said "morally" he would not switch to fraud.
He said: "I was robbed of my gear once and went inside once, but because I stick to class Bs, I don't really face all the violence that comes with coke.
I have a good client base including professionals and wouldn't want to start conning people out of their money."
Frank Matthews is the online pseudonym of a former Met Police DS who tweets about current crime trends.
He believes much of the current gangland violence in the UK has been caused by power vacuums left in the wake of the Encrochat raids.
The former detective, who now campaigns for a full reform of global drugs legislation, believes there is an almost endless supply of new people willing to move into drug supply if existing criminals are jailed or move onto other ventures and the cycle will continue.