MPs launch investigation into combatting fraud in wake of pandemic surge

The Justice Committee has launched a new inquiry to investigate the criminal justice system’s approach to combatting fraud.

Fraud accounts for approximately half of all crimes committed and could cost the UK over £137 billion a year. The majority of fraud is facilitated by digital technologies, meaning many cases can be perpetrated from other countries. The first half of 2021 saw a 285% rise in online fraud, such as phishing and text scams, fuelled by the increased use of online platforms during the pandemic.

Scams often focus on the most vulnerable in society and can cause serious harm to victims. Consumer organisation Which? calculated that 350 people a week were victims to a fraud that left them in severe emotional distress. Depending on the form of the fraud, victims do not always get their money back and the long-term financial consequences can be severe.

Prosecuting fraud cases can be complex, expensive and time-consuming. The Government has made tackling fraud a priority, but an historic lack of resources dedicated to this form of crime in the criminal justice system means much work is needed. Just 3% of incidents reported to Action Fraud result in a charge or summons and as little as 1% of police resources are dedicated to this form of crime.

The Justice Committee will consider how fraud convictions are investigated and prosecuted in the courts. It will assess the likely impact of new strategies, including the Government’s fraud action plan for 2022-5 and the CPS economic crime strategy, on tackling this growing and evolving form of crime. It will also investigate the experiences of those who have been victims of fraud and the impact on them.

The Committee expects to begin holding formal evidence sessions in the new year.

Launching the inquiry, Chair of the Justice Committee Sir Bob Neil MP said:

“Being a victim of fraud can have terrible consequences, leaving people feeling duped and vulnerable, having lost life changing sums of money. The ever-increasing use of online platforms, particularly during the pandemic, has seen a huge increase in cases of fraud while making it easier for criminals to operate across borders.

“We have launched this inquiry to understand what more the criminal justice system can do to combat and prosecute this form of crime. We will examine if current approaches are doing enough to support victims and look at what more can be done to bring criminals to justice.”