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New fraud tactics emerge as courts tackle case backlog

The number of alleged fraud cases being heard in UK courts in the first half of 2021 has almost doubled compared with the same time in 2020, according to data released by KPMG.

New fraud tactics emerge as courts tackle case backlog
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  • Juliet Helmke
  • August 04, 2021
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The latest insights from KPMG’s fraud barometer were released on Wednesday, revealing that the value of alleged fraud reaching UK courts in the first half of 2021 totalled £139.1 million.

That’s close to double what courts dealt with over the same period in 2020, a likely indication that the UK’s judicial systems are beginning to climb back to their usual capacity following the roadblocks posed by COVID-19 lockdowns.

The biannual report tracks alleged fraud cases with a value of over £100,000, not including online fraud.

Even with the significant increase over 2020’s figures, 2021 was still down 70 per cent year on year.

The first half of 2019, for example, saw fraud values of over £319 million, while that figure reached £895 million in the same period in 2018.

KPMG found that 151 alleged fraud cases were heard in the first six months of the year, as courts used a mix of virtual and face-to-face sessions to begin to process the backlog created by COVID-19 restrictions. 

Government figures released in June showed that at the end of Q1 2021, there were over 59,000 outstanding cases still to be heard in Crown Courts and just under 400,000 for magistrates courts.

“Whilst the number of alleged fraud cases reaching court is significantly up on last year, no super-cases have been recorded in the data, which may point to more complex cases being delayed,” said Roy Waligora, partner and head of UK investigations at KPMG.

According to Mr Waligora, the pandemic had caused issues in more ways than one. 

“Professional criminals have seized on the opportunities created by the global pandemic to target victims in their own homes,” Mr Waligora said.

“From phishing and text scams to posing as banks to get unsuspecting customers to allow their accounts to be taken over – having a captive audience at home during lockdown has provided the perfect opportunity for unscrupulous criminals to take advantage.”

The conditions created by the pandemic saw an increase in scams targeting the UK public, KPMG found. 

Cases involving the UK public being the victim increased by 285 per cent, to 50 cases in the first half of 2021 (£43.1 million), compared with just 13 cases heard over the same period in 2020 (£22.6 million).  

In comparison, 36 cases of alleged fraud targeting the government appeared in court in the first half of 2021, worth more than £55 million. Courts heard 19 cases involving alleged fraud totalling £78 million during the same period in 2020. 

“During the pandemic there were a number of consumer campaigns to raise awareness of scams that were doing the rounds, but professional gangs are adept at moving on to the next big scam quickly. Keeping consumers alert and educated on the new types of scams coming through remains crucial in the fight against organised criminals,” Mr Waligora said.

Cases relating to rogue tradesmen targeting members of the public doubled in volume in 2021. Most involved elderly and vulnerable people who were scammed for unnecessary work or paid for services that were then never delivered. The value of the alleged fraud totalled £2.5 million. 

KPMG speculated the spike could be attributed to the social isolation caused by the pandemic and the absence of family members or carers who would usually offer support or financial advice on these matters.

 

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