Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

National strategy to tackle fraud

Fraudulent documents haul revealed

A national crackdown on fraud, which is said to cost the UK 14bn a year, is to be launched by the government.

The three-year National Fraud Strategy, the first of its kind, is aimed at protecting consumers and businesses.

A national fraud reporting centre and new legal powers for prosecutors and crown courts are among the initiatives.

The measures come as figures show UK credit and debit card fraud rose by 14% in 2008 as criminals found methods of bypassing chip and pin card security.

The development, introduced in 2004, added a smart chip to cards, making them harder for criminals to clone.

Payments group Apacs said the main areas of fraud now were transactions which did not use chip and pin such as buying goods over the internet or telephone or using the cards in countries which do not have the system in place.

Apacs said losses attributed to plastic totalled 609.9m, up from 535.2m in 2007.

Organised fraud

The government's new strategy was developed by the newly-established National Fraud Strategic Authority (NFSA), an executive agency of the Attorney General's Office, which will co-ordinate counter-fraud activity.

Sandra Quinn, chief executive of the National Fraud Strategic Authority, said that at the moment there was nowhere central for people to go and report fraud.

Livelihoods and even lives have been lost as a consequence of fraud
Baroness Scotland

"People will be able to call or e-mail the centre which will also receive information from businesses including banks," she said.

"There is a lot of organised fraud out there and often it is reasonably small amounts of money but it's being done thousands of times."

She added that crown courts would be given extra powers - including the ability to bar solicitors and estate agents from working if they have been convicted of fraud.

"Courts will also be able to order compensation to be paid on a wider scale," she said.

"At the moment a victim has to be named individually in court to get compensation and that will change."

Livelihoods lost

Attorney General Baroness Scotland said fraud cost every person 231 per year and the strategy would create a more "hostile environment for fraudsters".

She said the strategy represented an "emphatic response" from the government to the notion of fraud as a "victimless crime".

"I am very aware of the financial and personal misery frauds, such as e-mail scams, identity theft, mortgage and credit card fraud, through to Ponzi schemes and share sale frauds, can inflict on consumers and businesses," she said.

"Livelihoods and even lives have been lost as a consequence of fraud and we are working to improve the support available to people and businesses to make it tougher to defraud them."

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment scheme which involves paying investors from money invested by others rather than real profits.

New guidelines for plea agreements in complex or serious fraud cases were published on Wednesday.

The rules, which come in to force on 5 May, will allow prosecutors to make deals with defendants in the hope of avoiding long and expensive trials.

Prosecutors would be able to negotiate with alleged fraudsters about what they were prepared to admit to.

The fraudster would be allowed to plead guilty to a less serious charge if Crown lawyers believed they would still get an "adequate" sentence.

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