In Brief

Action Fraud: has the Home Office massaged the numbers?

Former detectives say thousands of identity fraud cases omitted to reduce recorded crime rates

The Home Office is manipulating crime figures by ordering the national anti-fraud office to dismiss tens of thousands of legitimate cases, according to two former police chiefs.

Ken Farrow and Steve Wilmott told The Times that Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, is failing to record cases of identity theft as crimes.

“The decision to dismiss these reports, which was made by the Home Office, means as many as 50,000 reported frauds every year are not included in official crime statistics and the criminals are not being pursued,” according to the newspaper.

The two former officers, who spearheaded the fraud squad between 1997 and 2008, have accused ministers of plotting to “disguise” soaring fraud rates in order to avoid increased pressure to invest in policing.

Farrow explained that if someone uses a stolen identity to obtain a credit card and then “raids the account”, it is “not being recorded as a crime because the bank, rather than a person, is regarded as the victim”. This has happened in “potentially tens of thousands” of cases, he says.

“Successive governments, always keen to convince the public that crime overall is on the decrease, have never wanted fraud to send the overall crime figures rocketing,” Farrow added.

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The Times report is the latest in a series of investigations by the newspaper into Action Fraud, where employees are said to have told undercover reporters that they had been trained to tell victims their reports would be investigated, even if this was unlikely to be the case. 

Fraud now accounts for more than a third of crimes in England and Wales, but as few as one in 50 fraud reports results in a suspect being caught.

leader comment in The Times says the current state of affairs means fraudsters “are being allowed to act with impunity, safe in the assumption that they are unlikely to face prosecution”.

Responding to the latest allegations, the Home Office said it was awaiting the results of an ongoing police review of Action Fraud, but a spokesperson added: “All frauds as specified in the law and reported to Action Fraud should be recorded as crimes.”

Meanwhile, City of London police said the newly reported findings “do not represent the standards of work and ethics we expect”.

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