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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 10:34 GMT
UK fraud costs 'top 20bn a year'
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Fraud is becoming endemic, the police warn
Fraud is costing the UK some 20bn a year - 330 for every person in the country, a police study warns.

The survey, commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has added up published fraud figures across the UK's economy.

Including the cost of fighting fraud the baseline number is 13.9bn.

But the report's authors add on 6bn for under-reporting and tax evasion - and warn that even so, their numbers are a very conservative minimum.

They call for the government to follow through on last year's Fraud Review and establish a National Fraud Reporting Centre.

Response

The government is due to publish on 15 March its response to consultations on the review, which highlighted weaknesses in the public sector response to fraud and the paucity of police resources available to tackle it.

Unabated, fraud will undoubtedly change the way future generations view the world
Mike Bowron, Commissioner, City of London Police

However, they caution that severely limited public resources mean that finding out the true cost of fraud could raise expectations of a response far beyond what the public sector is equipped to offer.

For Acpo, Mike Bowron, Commissioner of the City of London Police, said the report should help make clear just how big a threat so-called "white collar crime" was to people in the UK.

"Lying to secure financial benefit is fast becoming endemic in British life," Mr Bowron said.

"Fraud threatens to blur the boundaries between what we see as right and wrong. Unabated, fraud will undoubtedly change the way future generations view the world."

The government said it welcomed the report, and would "carefully" study its conclusions.

It pointed to legislation to introduce judge-only trials for complex fraud cases, and to plans to provide extra money for the City of London Police.

Public purse

The Acpo report's authors, led by Cardiff University criminologist and economic crime specialist Professor Michael Levi, developed their figures from data submitted by numerous private-sector surveys, from trade bodies, and from the public sector.

Indeed, the public sector was the biggest victim according to the report's figures, suffering losses and costs of some 6.5bn in 2005 - much of it from so-called "carousel" VAT fraud.

Fraud graph

Next in line is the 2.75bn lost by private individuals - a figure drawn from the Office of Fair Trading's Scams Survey.

The rest of the basic 13.9bn figure is attributed to businesses, both in the financial services sector and elsewhere.

Under-estimate?

But some observers were surprised that the baseline number was so low - barely changed from a 14bn estimate generated by the Home Office in 2000.

The report's authors acknowledge that their figures are "merely indicative", coming from sources which are "neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive".

According to Steven Philippsohn, head of fraud at London law firm PCB Litigation, the real problem with this kind of number is the vast amount of fraud that never makes it into the public eye.

"The cost of fraud has increased very substantially over the past seven years," he said.

The point is that there's a universal expectation that nothing will be done
Steven Philippsohn

"To come to any other conclusion flies in the face of all the other data that we've analysed and found to be proved correct."

Limited resources

Mr Philippsohn - who is also on the board of the Fraud Advisory Panel - said there was rampant under-reporting.

In part, he said, this was caused by the low priority assigned to fraud by governments in recent years, and a steady slide in the number of police available to deal with it.

"The point is that there's a universal expectation that nothing will be done," he said.

Richard Veale, of risk consultancy Ebis, said most big business and financial sector fraud never made it into the public eye.

"What this report doesn't take into account are the massive frauds in commerce which are resolved through the civil courts and are invariably settled," Mr Veale said.


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