Brian Sims

Joint Task Force relaunched to thwart rise in fraud crime

IN VIEW of the 24% rise in fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced the relaunch of the Joint Fraud Task Force, which will play a vital role in countering fraud through public-private sector partnerships.

A crime that leaves devastating financial and emotional effects on victims will now be tackled jointly in a first-of-its-kind agreement between private sector companies and the Government to protect people’s hard-earned cash.

To coincide with the first meeting of the relaunched Task Force, three new fraud charters across the retail banking, telecommunications and accountancy sectors will commit industry leaders to work with Government on delivering new and innovative projects with the ultimate aim of reducing the growing threat and protecting the public.

New initiatives will actively safeguard livelihoods and savings and include a pilot dynamic direct debit system that would introduce a banking authorisation step into applications for new telecommunications contracts (including mobile phone contracts) that have been applied for fraudulently or used for fraudulent purposes, a cross-sector data breach plan to protect customers who have been subject to a data breach from becoming victims of fraud and also leveraging new technology to tackle the fraudulent practice of sending fake company text messages (known as ‘smishing’).

The Task Force will include leaders from across Government, the private sector, regulators, law enforcement and victim representatives.

Signatories of the new charters include all major High Street banks along with many of the new fintech and challenger banks, members of the Communications Crime Strategy Group (including BT, EE, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Media, O2 and Vodafone and supported by Mobile UK) and 12 leading UK accountancy bodies, among them the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

Delivery of the charters will be overseen by the Task Force, which is to be chaired by Damien Hinds, the Minister for Security. The first meeting took place late last month, whereupon attendees discussed measures to tackle online fraud, increase fraud awareness and change public behaviours.

Deep concern

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I’m deeply concerned about the devastating impact fraud can have on victims. I will not tolerate criminals lining their pockets at the expense of law-abiding citizens. Government alone cannot fix this issue which is why the Joint Fraud Task Force will bring together key business leaders to work in partnership on protecting the public and tackling this cowardly form of criminality.”

Damian Hinds explained: “Fraud is a devastating crime that impacts around one-in-thirteen of us each year, often in life-changing ways. I’m pleased to be chairing this new Task Force, which will bring experts from the most vital sectors together to prevent perpetrators from exploiting vulnerabilities and fraud controls to conduct their criminality.”

David Postings, CEO of UK Finance, added: “Protecting customers from fraud and stopping stolen money from reaching the hands of criminals is an absolute priority for the banking industry. Banks are fighting fraud on every front, but the sector cannot stop all fraud on its own. Only by working together with other key industries and Government can we combine our powers to make the UK a safe place in which to do business.”

Michelle Giddings and Elaine Smyth, co-chairs of the Accountancy AML Supervisors Group, said: “Fraud is a widespread and growing crime that causes financial loss, damage and disruption across the UK. The recent pandemic has seen an explosion in the scale of fraud being perpetrated against businesses and consumers alike. As gatekeepers for the financial system, the accountancy sector is committed to playing its part in helping to prevent and detect this ever-present crime. We have worked closely with the Home Office to develop a fraud charter for the accountancy sector to further develop our combined understanding of the threats and vulnerabilities, increase awareness within our firms and realise training materials.”

Action against fraud

Adrian Gorham, chair of the Communications Crime Strategy Group, noted: “The telecommunications industry has been taking action against fraud, including scam voice calls and SMS, for many years now. This includes barring and blocking bulk voice calls and SMS where detected, restricting the use of calling line and message identities to their owners and restricting financial return paths through our services.”

Gorham continued: “We are committed to working with Government, law enforcement and other stakeholders to reduce the incidence and impact of fraud. We continue to urge customers to remain aware of unexpected or suspicious voice calls or SMS they receive and to report these to 7726, the industry’s automated scam reporting service.”

The Task Force and charter agreements form part of the Fraud Action Plan Framework agreed at the Government’s Economic Crime Strategic Board earlier this year. Their establishment builds on the Government’s wider work to tackle fraud.

For the 2020 Spending Review, the Government committed £63 million to the Home Office to tackle economic crime, including fraud. This is in addition to the funding that the Home Office commits each year to the National Economic Crime Centre within the National Crime Agency and police forces, including over £15 million each year to the City of London Police as the national lead force for fraud.

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