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Fraud victims ‘let down by police and need more help’

·4-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

People cheated by fraudsters are being let down by police despite the “staggering” levels of the crime and its damaging impact on lives, the Victims’ Commissioner warned today.

In the latest of our series examining online scams, Dame Vera Baird said that she was “deeply concerned” that “very few cases of fraud are genuinely investigated” and that the harm caused by the crime was not being taken seriously.

She said most victims received a “grossly inadequate response” as a result and that “significantly more investment in victim support services and in the police” was needed to stop the problems getting even worse.

She added that action was also required to force tech firms to vet adverts on their platforms to root out fraudsters as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the way in which offenders are pursued and victims protected.

“Fraud has reached epidemic proportions — the scale is staggering,” said Dame Vera, a former Labour minister.

“The growth of online scams is deeply concerning and the pandemic has thrown the door open to all sorts of fraud. The problem has not been matched by resourcing and the victim response is inadequate. Very few cases of fraud are genuinely investigated.

“Fraud can have a devastating impact, both financially and emotionally — disastrous for individuals and their families, and have a huge impact on self-esteem and mental health.”

Dame Vera said evidence of the problem included figures showing a lack of satisfaction among victims in the way crimes against them are pursued, and the large gap between the number of frauds recorded by police and the volume of offending taking place.

She said it was also wrong that only one per cent of police resources are spent tackling fraud and that another problem was a lack of understanding about what made people vulnerable to falling victim to fraud.

She added: “Fraud used to be regarded as victimless — it’s not like rape, you’re not physically hurt — but it’s undermining because you feel stupid.” Dame Vera’s organisation is carrying out research to create a “stronger evidence base around victim vulnerability, the impacts of fraud on victims, and on the support offered to victims”.

Scammed out of thousands

Make-up artist Nicole Paskauskas was scammed out of thousands meant to see her business through the pandemic.

The 28-year-old, pictured below, from Tottenham, had just finished filming BBC reality show Glow Up in January when she got a call from someone pretending to be from her bank. Ms Paskauskas had received a Covid grant for her company Disco Dust London and the man on the phone warned that she was in danger of losing it all unless she transferred the cash to a new safe account — one he would set up for her.

Ms Paskauskas said: “The call came up as if it were my bank. They had the same number and they knew all my details. They made me really scared I was going to lose all my money. I did ask them how I could know they weren’t trying to scam me. He said ‘if you want to ring back you can but we can’t guarantee your money will be safe’.”

He created a new bank account, which she then transferred her money into. “I’m usually careful so I was checking everything,” she said. “But my online banking wasn’t working properly at the time. I was on the phone for hours and by the end I was exhausted. I have no idea where they got all my information.”

Ms Paskauskas realised she had been scammed when she tried to check her new account. She received her money back after a week. She added: “It was a week of absolute terror.”

Her warning on fraud comes amid increasing concern about the extent of the crime and the relatively limited action being taken.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics from a crime survey for England and Wales show 4.4 million fraud offences are estimated to be occurring each year. The National Crime Agency said it wants social media companies to do more to detect and remove fraudsters using their networks.

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