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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Economic crime 'costs UK 40bn'
Man in a pair of handcuffs
The effects of crime can be far reaching and expensive
UK businesses lost more than 40bn last year, about 100m a day, as a result of economic crime, a report has found.

The majority of companies said that they expect crimes to hit their shares and corporate image, accountants and advisers RSM Robson Rhodes said.

The main areas of concern are money laundering, embezzlement and cheque fraud. Bribery and corruption among staff also is a worry, the poll found.

While firms are aware of the issues, they need more protection, RSM said.

"Businesses need to take the risks posed more seriously," said Bill Cleghorn, a partner at RSM.

No easy fix

To be successful, they need to spend more time discussing and dealing with the problem at a boardroom level, he said.

Definitions of economic crime
Identity theft
Bribery, corruption
Cheque, credit card fraud
Internet, cyber crime
Insurance fraud
Money laundering
Procurement fraud
Product counterfeiting
VAT fraud
Source: RSM Robson Rhodes

An unwillingness by companies to admit that they are victims of crime, and in some senses admit that they have been caught out, may be hampering efforts to catch those responsible.

Nearly half of the 100 companies questioned by RSM said they do not inform external auditors about instances of economic crime. Less then 40% tell industry regulators.

More worrying is the fact that only 14% share information with local businesses.

Sharing helps

Authorities say that a key way of combating crime is to set up a network of victims and potential targets so that they can share experiences, safeguards and information.

"Economic crime is not just a concern for businesses - ultimately it costs us all," said Mr Cleghorn.

Tips for spotting economic crime
Unusual behaviour among staff and managers, such as working late over weekends
Poor security procedures; uncontrolled access to buildings
Patterns of purchase; large numbers below a certain value needing only one signature
Cash transactions by one person
Travel claims lacking documentation
Staff not saying where they are during absences
Widespread use of passwords, security codes
Sudden change in lifestyle, such as new car, clothes
Poor vetting of new staff
Source: RSM Robson Rhodes

A recent example showing the effect of economic crime is Enron, the US energy trading company whose collapse amid illegal accounting practices helped drive a global stock market slump.

Mr Cleghorn added that there is a need for firms "to research the level of economic crime in their industry sector".

"They then need to put in place effective systems and controls to prevent it, identify material losses and take action to recover those losses," he explained.

RSM found that 17% of business had been conned by criminals pretending to be well-known brands.

The poll was done with the backing of the Home Office and the Fraud Advisory Panel and questioned over 100 companies with a combined market value of more than 500bn.

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