To many practitioners, it cannot come as too much of a surprise that lots of fraud has its roots in organised crime. But today new research by the Police Foundation and Perpetuity Research has put a figure on it. We estimate that between 31 and 45% of fraud is linked to organised crime, much higher than the 15% identified in previous studies.
For a long time the problem of fraud lay politically dormant. Multiple studies sought to rectify this by demonstrating the human impact of fraud, but it is the sheer scale of fraud which has now brought it to our attention. It now sits in very stark relief with the inclusion of fraud for the first time in official crime statistics, showing 3.8 million incidents of fraud occurring in a single year, more prevalent than any other crime type in England and Wales.
Given those figures our estimate that up to 45% of recorded fraud is linked to organised crime shows the scale of the impact of organised crime on people and businesses in the UK.
So what does this mean for the policing of fraud and organised crime? Simply put fraud does not receive sufficient priority from the police and the links to organised crime are not well understood. Despite the figures quoted above, neither of the two police force areas that were the focus of our research had mapped a single recognised organised crime group (OCG) with a substantive link to fraud. Nor did fraud have much of a presence in their strategic outlook for organised crime. These forces are unlikely to be unusual in these respects.
Rather uniquely organised fraud is volume organised crime, impacting on a large number of people and businesses in the UK, and operating in increasingly plain sight as recording mechanisms for fraud improve. However, the established police response to organised crime is largely centred on tackling known local perpetrators, rather than dealing with offenders who in the case of fraud operate in other parts of the country and overseas. As a result none of the specialist resources and tactics that are the preserve of organised crime enforcement are applied to fraud. The question remains, in the absence of an offender to catch, what is the nature and extent of the role for local policing in reducing the substantial harms cause by organised fraud?
Of course fraud does not necessarily call for the same types of local policing resource as other more traditional forms of organised crime. Nevertheless it should not slip through organisational cracks, deemed too specialist for general police practitioners while remaining out of scope to established OCG monitoring systems.
The government has for a number of years been pushing for a more diversified response to organised crime, one that embraces more preventative interventions for reducing victimisation and harm to communities. Identifying whether a fraud is organised’ or not has its challenges, especially from a viewpoint confined to the borders of a single police force. However by targeting the problem rather than the offenders this question becomes rather academic, because the focus becomes less about unravelling offender networks through covert tactics or other specialist techniques and more about engaging, safeguarding and protecting potential victims and communities.