Fraud victims let down by 'inconsistent policing'
Some police forces are actively seeking reasons to drop investigations into fraud, a watchdog's report has warned.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services said an "inconsistent" approach to policing fraud in England and Wales left the public at high risk of scams.
One officer told its inquiry the crime was not considered a priority because it does not "bang, bleed or shout".
Police said "significant" work was under way to address the problems.
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'Everything is against fraud'
Inspectors visited 11 forces, as well as other agencies that help tackle fraud, and found examples that made "sorry reading".
One force filed 96% of the cases it received from a national intelligence bureau without further investigation, despite inspectors finding a good degree of evidence, including suspects, in some of the cases.
Another force had only two dedicated fraud investigators, the report found.
Other examples included:
- One staff member told inspectors: "If there is an excuse not to investigate it, we will use it."
- Problems at all levels, with "unacceptably wide variations" in the quality of case handling
- Unnecessary delays and a lack of proactive targeting of fraudsters
- Some victims are given confusing and misleading advice about whether or how their case will be pursued
While there were also examples of investigators providing victims with excellent service, the report said gun crime, child sexual exploitation and drug supply were more likely to be prioritised.
One analyst told inspectors: "Everything is against fraud. It is not a priority, not sexy, people don't report it and it is difficult to prove, which takes time, resources and money."
But the report said fraud can cause "enormous" psychological and emotional damage, highlighting that some victims have reported losing their entire life savings.
It concluded many fraud victims are not receiving the level of service they deserve.
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Tea and sympathy
Wayne May, founder of Scam Survivors, a website dedicated to exposing fraudsters and helping victims, said he can "sympathise with the police."
He said: "I went with a lady to make a police report and they said all they could offer her was tea and sympathy."
Mr May explains that fraudsters often operate in different countries, so although a victim could "lose everything they have", it would "cost much more to try and investigate it."
He also argues that people may avoid filing a police report out of embarrassment, fear of not being believed and because they "read stories online where the police have told victims there is nothing they can do".
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said stronger "strategic leadership" was needed.
"Without that leadership the current situation will continue, with fraudsters feeling like they can act with impunity and victims feeling confused and disillusioned," he said.
Cdr Karen Baxter, national police co-ordinator for economic crime, acknowledged there are areas that need improvement across policing.
She said: "A significant amount of work has already started to address some of the issues raised in the report."