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‘I lost £45,000 to scammers – but Action Fraud refused to do anything about it’

Action Fraud
Anna McKay, 67, was told by Action Fraud that her claim would be passed on to French police – but that never happened - Anna McKay

Fraud victims are turning to foreign police forces to solve their cases as the British authorities refuse to investigate.

London-based business owner Anna McKay lost £45,000 when fraudsters pretended to be a well-established hotel chain in France and forged a large order in 2020. Under the terms of the order, the payment would have been made on arrival.

Ms McKay, 67, the founder of Zeez Sleep, which manufactures sleep devices, reported the scam to Action Fraud.

The fraudsters were eventually caught by the French authorities but emails seen by The Telegraph show that they had had no communication with their British equivalents.

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Ms McKay claimed: “I never got anything from Action Fraud other than a standard ‘we can’t do anything’ email.

“This is not cyber fraud requiring painstaking research but physical goods being sent to a named individual at a warehouse south of Paris. A box may be ticked but an opportunity to stop future fraud, recover stolen goods, and help a neighbour is being lost.

“I think we were saved because I had lots of conversations [with French police] and I am a fluent French speaker,” she added.

Ms McKay is one of thousands of fraud victims whose claims have not been progressed by Action Fraud – the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting body – in recent years.

A freedom of information request by The Telegraph found the government department, set up to combat rising fraud, is failing to pass on 85pc of cases to local police forces.

More than £1.2bn was lost to fraud in 2022, the equivalent of £2,300 every minute, a report by industry body UK Finance found.

But just 15.2pc of the 178,689 crimes reported to Action Fraud in the first six months of 2022 were referred on for an investigation.

Action Fraud, which is run, as is the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), by the City of London Police, does not have investigative powers. If a case requires further work, it will be passed on to the relevant police force. Victims can report fraud either by telephone or online.

In 2021, 9.2pc of crime reports were passed on, either for “intelligence”, to prevent further crime or to protect the victims, or to be investigated further.

It comes as Action Fraud confirms to The Telegraph that its long-awaited overhaul, announced by the government in 2021, has been delayed, blaming the complexity of the project.

The reform was promised in 2021 after then Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered a review of the body following the revelation that victims had been mocked by call-handler’s managers , who called them “morons”.

Action Fraud outsources its customer service to American agency Concentrix, which handles calls from fraud victims before cases are passed on to the NFIB for review. A handover of day-to-day operations to outsourcing firms Capita and PwC is now due by the end of the year, rather than by the end of June, as announced last year.

‘Inaction fraud’

Dr Ramana Kumar, had his cryptocurrency accounts hacked and emptied in September 2023.

He reported the fraud, which amounted to £40,000 in cash terms, to Action Fraud, but described his experience with the crime unit as “frustrating”.

Dr Kumar claimed that the crypto exchanges told him that they would need permission from the authorities in order for them to return the stolen money – but Action Fraud did not act quickly enough, and the money was gone.

He said: “We needed to move faster than that if we were going to recover the funds as they were getting cashed out.”

Dr Kumar claims he had evidence that could have led to tracking down the fraudsters. His case was referred to the NFIB, but the body decided that it did not meet the criteria to be investigated further.

Dr Kumar added: “I would have needed to talk to someone who wanted to help me recover the funds or catch the criminals, or in some other way, pursue justice. I don’t think I was ever able to talk to someone who had that intention.”

Bob Blackman MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairer Financial Services, said that a more appropriate name for the body would be “inaction fraud”.

“At the moment, the position of the so-called Action Fraud is not too much action. More inaction,” he said.

“I do think there is a real problem with the way that the authorities look at it and the way that individuals are just left to their own devices, effectively, to try and combat things.”

Cybersecurity expert James Bore said that in his experiences helping fraud victims, he has not come across “a single case” where a report to Action Fraud led to action being taken.

He said: “Years ago they were found unfit for service, and yet nothing has changed. Almost no funding goes into fraud investigation or prevention, and so even if Action Fraud were more effective there’s no one to act on the reports.”

An investigation into the fraud reporting system by consumer group Which? in 2019 found that some reports were never being read by actual police staff.

An undercover operation by The Times that same year revealed that staff were banned from telling victims that the majority of cases are dismissed by employees at an out-sourced call centre or a computer algorithm.

The investigation also uncovered that non-police employees were being told to suggest that they were officers while on the phone to victims.

Victims were mocked by managers in charge of collating reports of fraud, who called them “morons” and “psychos”. City of London Police said at the time that it was “horrified” by the reports and said it had not asked for call handlers to pretend to be officers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel demanded a response from the City of London police as a result of the investigation.

Then, in 2021 the Government’s “Beating Crime Plan” said that Action Fraud, which was founded in 2009 and used by all police forces by 2013, would be replaced with an improved national reporting system.

But a spokesman for Action Fraud said that the introduction of PwC and Capita, to replace American firm Concentrix, which previously handled calls for the body, had been delayed due to the “complexity of the project”.

It was announced last June that the body would receive £152m in funding over five years in order to improve the speed at which it speaks to law enforcement.

A UK Finance spokesperson said: “The government’s recent fraud strategy announced enhancements to the fraud reporting set-up and we welcome changes that support victims and make it easier for them.

“These crimes have a terrible impact on victims and wider society and so, alongside this, our focus is on stopping fraud from happening in the first place.”

Detective Superintendent Gary Miles, head of the NFIB at the City of London Police, said that each report is analysed to see if it can be passed on to a local force, and that there are a number of considerations made.

Once a report has been passed on, it is the responsibility of the local force to decide whether or not it will be investigated.

DSI Miles said: “We know that forces have competing priorities and not every case of fraud will result in a judicial outcome. There are also a number of other ways a report can be dealt with outside of a dissemination.”

Oliver Shaw, temporary commander for Fraud and Cybercrime from the City of London Police, said: “We understand that the public may be disappointed if their case does not result in a criminal conviction, however, there are a number of other key pieces of work done to help victims and stop fraudsters in their tracks.”

The fraud body said it responds to all cases within six weeks. Victims can also report through the Action Fraud website.

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