By Chris Lang
Action Fraud is “the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime”, according to its website. Victims should report fraud to Action Fraud, and reports are passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
Here’s how Action Fraud describes the process on its website:
When you report to us you will receive a police crime reference number. Reports taken are passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Action Fraud does not investigate the cases and cannot advise you on the progress of a case.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau is run by the City of London Police, which describes itself as “the national policing lead for fraud and is dedicated to preventing and investigating fraud at all levels”.
Fraud now makes up more than one-third of all crimes in England and Wales. Obviously, the process for reporting fraud is important.
Undercover at Action Fraud
Earlier this year, Paul Morgan-Bentley, a journalist with the Times, went undercover and got a job at Action Fraud’s call centre in Gourock, Scotland.
The worst place I have ever worked… the management are so inexperienced and are very rude and unhelpful. There is no support unit what so ever. The HR is non-existent. Even if you are desperate I would advise you to keep well away from this place!!!
Morgan-Bentley filmed Michael Rodgers, the City of London Police training manager. He told recruits that when people report fraud crimes, it is very unlikely that their cases will be passed on to actual police officers.
Rodgers tells recruits that,
See when it comes to the police you’ll find that they do absolutely everything in their power to avoid doing work. They’re the most useless bunch of people and that’s me being totally honest with you.
See when it comes to fraud in particular because they don’t understand it they will literally hand people over a leaflet and say contact Action Fraud, knowing that all that we can do for people is take a report and we can’t do anything else.
When victims contact Action Fraud, they do not realise that staff are making the decision whether their cases should be dealt with as crimes or dealt with as “information reports” – which Morgan-Bentley notes are “almost never looked at again”.
Morgan-Bentley filmed Rodgers telling recruits that,
People don’t know that, right, so when somebody phones up to get a report, we don’t tell them that we’re taking a crime or an information report, we just tell them we’re taking a fraud report for them.
Because could you image sitting there on the phone and going, ‘Sorry, I know that you’ve been passed on to me for a crime reference number but I cannot give you that, I can only give you a report for an information report’?
And then they’d say to you, ‘Well what’s the difference between the two?’ And then you turn round and say, ‘Well if it’s a crime report somebody’s going to look at it and try and investigate it for you but because it’s an information report nothing’s going to happen with it.’
Assessed by algorithms
But even crime reports are often never looked at again. Morgan-Bentley explains that, “A computer scoring system analyses the reports and only those most likely to lead to a suspect being caught are sent on to be reviewed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.”
Never disclose that there’s a scoring system. That has only been disclosed to us through NFIB so that you guys know why reports will go through and get investigated and why some won’t.
Could you imagine having that conversation with somebody on the phone where you say ‘Yeah that’s not going to be one of the ones that’s going to score high enough so you’re kind of wasting your time.’
You’re going to be dealing with probably no report, but a massive complaint as to who are you to decide that I’m not going to get that report.
A few weeks after the Times investigation, Which magazine published a report into Action Fraud. Which’s journalist, Faye Lipson, confirmed that fraud reports are assessed by algorithms and that some reports are never seen by a human being.
When victims report a fraud, they are doing so having lost their life savings. Inevitably, they may omit important information – or not know which details are crucial, such as the suspect’s name and bank account details.
One important factor for whether the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau decides to investigate further is the number of reports about a particular scam. The more reports, the more likely it is that NFIB will investigate.
City of London Police: “Horrified and saddened”
Not surprisingly, staff turnover at Action Fraud is very high. Teenagers as young as 16 have been hired by Action Fraud. “Employees ridicule victims,” says Morgan-Bentley, “and took little interest in victims while on calls.”
He films one person who appears to be asleep while listening to a victim’s story. Another tweeted from work, “Wuft, I an drunk. Scrap this shift.”
The City of London Police responded that it is “horrified and saddened” by reports of victims being treated disrespectfully and being mocked.
While the Action Fraud website states that, it “is run by the City of London Police”, Action Fraud has actually been outsourced to a US firm called Concentrix. A spokesperson for Concentrix said, “A number of alleged isolated incidents have been raised which are not a representation of the operating culture of our organisation.” Four Concentrix employees were fired.
Only 3% of complaints to Action Fraud result in charges. One in 200 victims see the scammers convicted.
A Home Office spokeswoman told Morgan-Bentley that, “The Home Secretary is very concerned by these allegations and has written to City of London Police asking for an urgent update on Action Fraud’s performance.”
After the Times expose, Police Scotland pulled out of the Action Fraud service, in favour of keeping its own database. And the City of London Police said they would review their contract with Concentrix.
But little seems to have improved for victims of fraud in England and Wales. Here are three recent comments from people who have reported being scammed to Action Fraud:
“Complete waste of my time. Was told by Sussex police that they no longer deal with fraud, so reported £5000 fraud to Action Fraud and received absolutely no response.”
“Absolutely appalling, made a complaint months ago, and after waiting months, received a response saying that there was not enough information to pass onto any agencies. Spoke to the police because i was not happy, and had specific information, names, and addresses, and was told by the police to go back to Action Fraud because there was clearly information to investigate, went back to them, and still no response.”
“Not fit for purpose. Does not investigate major cases where UK citizens have been defrauded.”
Broadcasting Support Services
Action Fraud was set up in 2013 by the National Fraud Authority, an executive agency of the Home Office. A company called Broadcasting Support Services was hired to answer the phones.
Things did not go well. BSS lost 2,500 reports of fraud because of IT problems. And in March 2014, then-Home Secretary Theresa May shut down the National Fraud Authority. At the time, only half of the frauds reported to Action Fraud were passed on to the police to investigate.
Nevertheless, BSS boasted about its Action Fraud work. Here’s a (completely bizarre) screenshot of its website archived on 16 July 2014:
So in July 2014, according to its website, BSS was alerting the National Fraud Authority about reported frauds. That’s three months after the National Fraud Authority had been shut down. REDD-Monitor asked BSS about this in July 2014, but received no response.
Action Fraud was transferred to the City of London Police in 2014.
BSS went into administration in July 2015 after being sacked from running Action Fraud.
In August 2015, the City of London Police hired Concentrix to run Action Fraud. Concentrix is part of the Synnex Corporation, which is registered in the tax haven of Delaware. The company employs more than 54,000 people in 24 countries.
Concentrix was, perhaps, a strange choice, given the company’s record in the UK. In 2014, HM Revenue and Customs had hired Concentrix to investigate tax credit fraud in the UK. Concentrix sent out tens of thousands of threatening letters and unfairly stripped people of their benefits.
But by July 2015, the National Audit Office found that the company had made savings of only £500,000, well short of the anticipated £285 million. In September 2015, the Concentrix contract was cancelled.
In September 2019, John Manzoni, the chief executive of the Civil Service, told Parliament’s public administration committee that officials would “make sure” Concentrix was not awarded any more government contracts, “unless they could persuade us that they had got better”.
In her report for Which? about Action Fraud, Faye Lipson interviewed a police inspector who told her that,
“I think the general policing thoughts are that it’s not fit for purpose.
“It’s traditionally been quite difficult for people to get through [on the phone line]. Online reporting [via the web form] isn’t suitable for people who are vulnerable and don’t know a lot about fraud. You have to pick your own classifications for fraud. There are many . I don’t know them all. It’s a lot.
“They don’t disseminate things we really should investigate. They just screen them out. And when I say ‘they’, I mean the organisation, not individuals.”
Report scams to Action Fraud anyway
But the inspector did not want to scrap Action Fraud. Police forces would not be able to cope with recording and screening all reports of fraud, Which? reports. And before Action Fraud was set up, police forces didn’t necessarily share information about on-going frauds, meaning that the scammers could target victims in different areas of the country, without anyone noticing the scale of the fraud.
Action Fraud can also help uncover networks of scammers linked, for example, by bank account details, shared company directors, or other details.
So, despite the many problems with Action Fraud, if you are the victim of a scam, always report it to Action Fraud: actionfraud.police.uk or 0300 123 2040.