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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Never underestimate the traumatic impact of fraud, warns victims’ commissioner

We know that the police response to fraud is still not good enough. Presently, only about two per cent of police resources are committed to tackling fraud. It is hard to see how that’s even remotely commensurate to the task. Which is perhaps why out of 800,000 reports and three million victims, there were fewer than 8,000 fraud prosecutions in 2019. 

Too many victims still receive a poor service and are denied justice. But it is not just the investigative response to fraud which needs attention. With so few prosecutions, we need to know how well the overwhelming majority of fraud victims – who will not get a criminal justice outcome – are being supported. 

With no clear victim support pathway, victims often do not know who to turn to when seeking advice or support. 

My inbox bears testimony to this: I receive scores of letters and emails from victims of fraud. Most receive little to no victim care. But with such vast numbers of fraud victims each year, how do we ensure we target limited resources strategically and effectively? 

Landscape of fraud victimisation mapped out

My office has mapped out the landscape of fraud victimisation. It is the first time this has been done so comprehensively. We wanted to understand how we might break down the population of fraud victims into meaningful groups and understand what characterises those groups: who suffers from fraud and what is the impact of their being defrauded?

Published on Wednesday, my report is the first to cover both the minority who report to the police or Action Fraud, as little as 15 per cent, and the vast majority who do not. Its findings suggest which types of victim criminal justice agencies and support services may need to prioritise. 

Some of the findings were stark. The analysis found that almost a quarter, 22 per cent, of all fraud victims – about 700,000 people a year – are likely to be deeply affected. They may experience very high levels of financial loss, severe emotional strain, including suffering from anxiety or depression, and suffer relationship difficulties as a result of their being defrauded. 

The research also helps us understand that fraud victims are not a monolith. Even though the number of fraud victims is huge, more than half of fraud victims – about 1.74 million people – are likely to say the crime had little to no impact on them. So, there is certainly scope for us to target resources far more efficiently and effectively to ensure the most vulnerable victims are adequately supported. 

But I must stress that we found there is no typical victim of fraud. Anyone can be a victim. Fraud affects anyone and everyone, irrespective of age, income or gender. 

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