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Different Strokes for Different Folks

My nightmare scenario involves me being woken at a respectable hour by a detective who is smartly dressed, courteous and professional. He shows me his search warrant and then he and two colleagues carry out a thorough and methodical search of my apartment carefully tidying up after themselves and seizing only that which is necessary. They are all relaxed and feel no personal threat from me so the entire episode is actually reasonably friendly. I’m taken to the local police station in an unmarked police car and referred to as ‘sir’ by the Desk Sergeant.

I call my lawyer who is well-versed in advising those in my line of work and after taking appropriate legal advice I offer an innocent explanation as to why I was in possession of 50 dodgy bank cards. If I am eventually charged, I offer to plead guilty to a lesser offence rather than string things out for even longer. Police performance measurement wants to see this investigation result in a conviction for a fraud-related offence, however, exactly what offence is neither here nor there. Whilst plea-bargaining does not officially exist in the UK, the reality is somewhat different. Having reached an agreement brokered by my lawyer, I plead guilty with huge mitigation to the lesser offence and suggest that I was merely doing a favour for a friend and I had no idea of what was really going on. The judge nods sagely and sentences me to 200 hours of community service. I go back to ‘work’ the same day.

Contrast this with the arrest of someone wanted for armed robbery or drug dealing. The expectation is, that in order to protect themselves and/or their ill-gotten gains, they may be in possession of a firearm. Police respond to that threat by taking bigger guns and more of them. The cops who carry out these raids are often ‘Specialist Firearms Officers’ or ‘SFOs’ in the world of police acronyms. Their 5am arrival is normally heralded by the sound of the front door being split asunder as 4 dismounted horsemen of the apocalypse charge into the bedroom ready to shoot me if I do not immediately comply.

I am roughly plasticuffed and placed face down on the floor whilst the place is searched.

I’ve heard about police searches where burglars leave less of a mess! I am dealt with as if I were the dregs of society and given the very minimum of respect. I am bundled into the back of a marked police van and taken to the local police station. All of the urgency of the raid has disappeared and I am left waiting in my cell for hours and hours before I am interviewed. The mere mention of my solicitor’s name is brings stifled laughter from the detectives as the only trade he gets is from the likes of me. His hard earned law degree and years of practice representing the violent criminal underworld has culminated in the bespoke and illuminating legal advice ‘say ‘no comment’ to everything’ I do as he suggests and am promptly charged with the most serious offence on the books and the Custody Officer refuses me bail. I’m kept in the cell until the following morning where a brief hearing results in me being remanded in custody to prison. After various uneventful hearings I eventually go to trial. I’m further advised to plead ‘not guilty’ and following a short perfunctory trial I’m sentenced to 8 years in prison. Even allowing the 50% discount for good behaviour it means I’m inside for the next 4 years.

Television also has to shoulder some of the blame for demonising one type of crime whilst soft peddling the other. John Thaw playing Detective Inspector Jack Regan in ‘The Sweeney’ typified the Flying Squad culture in the 1970s. I’m not suggesting that he could be dragged and dropped into today’s police force, however, if they were to make a television series about The Fraud Squad, I’m sure they would get Nigel Havers to play the lead detective. Suave, sophisticated and exuding class and intelligence. A less than subtle suggestion that armed robbers are nasty and thick whilst fraudsters are gentlemen who have simply veered from the path.

The differences between the two crimes could not be more stark. Whilst nobody wants to be the bank teller or security guard threatened with a gun by a guy in a ski mask, the reality of the situation is that this type of crime is relatively rare and the number of victims of this crime type is very limited. The banks are insured again the loss but it is guaranteed to knock almost anything other than terrorism or murder off the front page of the tabloids. Given the huge press coverage it attracts, police realise that they must be seen to be responding appropriately. The Met still have their Flying Squad, (albeit now renamed something more anodyne) and a posting there is considered essential for a career detective with ambition.

On the other hand, fraud personally affects hundreds of thousands of victims and happens every day of the year. Even though it ruins people’s lives, It attracts very little national attention and the banks (despite their protestations to the contrary) couldn’t care less. Police resources are at an all time low and unless a crime has obvious links to terrorism or knife crime it gets very little attention, thus increasing the chances of getting away with it.

The national fraud reporting centre ‘Action Fraud’ act as the single point of contact for all reported fraud, however, for whatever reason, it takes them four months just to forward the allegation to the relevant force, by which time any investigative opportunities have disappeared. Until the government and the banks provide appropriate and proportionate resources to prevent, investigate and detect fraud then fraudsters like myself, will continue to act with complete impunity. The only potential upside is that armed robberies will reduce further as what is the point of risking being shot or spending years and years in prison when they can earn a great deal more without risking very much at all.

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