Working with the bad guys
Updated: Jan 6
Since I began publishing this blog I've had a great deal of very positive feedback along the lines of 'why didn't anyone tell me about this before as it would have prevented me from becoming a victim in the first place' however, I have had other feedback too. A handful of people have questioned the ethics and morality of retired cops working with an accomplished, albeit reformed fraudster.
When we first suggested the idea, the guy in question laughed in my face. He found it bizarre that someone who had previously sat across an interview table with him trying to prove his involvement in a large-scale fraud, should later approach him and ask for his help. The power dynamic had clearly shifted. In truth, if he had immediately agreed to our proposal, I would have been amazed and also a little bit worried at the motivation behind his willingness. I was, however, encouraged by the fact that (after he had laughed at us) he then went on to ask several questions regarding our own motivation, the risk of being identified by his former 'colleagues' and what guarantees he would have that we would not disclose his true identity. It seemed to me that he actually wanted us to persuade him.
We met him several times before we actually obtained his agreement to assist. During each meeting we learned a little more about him. We always met somewhere very public and to his credit he never failed to appear and was always on time. Whilst we have now developed a degree of trust, it was not always that way. We have watched him complete anti-surveillance drills on his route to the meeting, he has asked us to prove we were not recording the conversation by searching us and turning our mobiles off and on at least one occasion tested us by providing us with spurious information to see if we would bite.
He is in his mid-40s and has a degree economics from a good university. He is from a 'nice' family and they clearly have no idea about his past. He wears a subtle Rolex, and drives a (pre Covid) new car, and lives in a nice flat in a gentrified part of London. Understandably there are certain areas of his life that he won't get into. The only time I've seen him look worried was during a meeting in a coffee shop when an ex-colleague of mine walked past and recognised me. Sensing his anxiety I introduced him as my partner's cousin and he visibly relaxed.
If there was a seminal moment during those initial conversations that persuaded him to work with us to help reduce the number of potential victims of fraud, it was when he described how his own parents were scammed.(see my previous posting The Road to Damascus) Whilst he struggled with the idea of working with 'the enemy' - so did we. The feedback challenging the ethics/morality of working with someone like him came as no great surprise. I've chatted to those people, and of note (1) none were ex cops and (2) none had been the victim of a fraud. Whilst I accept their opinions are valid I'm not sure they understand (a) the trauma caused by being a victim of this type of crime or (b) the Police's ability to respond to such a prevalent offence.
The reality of the situation is that, despite any protestations to the contrary, fraud is not a priority for Police. They are aware that because of the embarrassment caused by admitting to being 'duped' - especially in romance scams - fraud is massively underreported. As a result the scale and complexity of the problems is not understood, and without truly understanding the problem it is impossible to come up with a solution. Whilst many of you will be aware of Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, in my humble opinion they have now become dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. You may have seen the article in The Times evidencing this. Relying upon them to combat fraud is like asking Mr Bean to take on Islamic State.
In private, senior Police Officers candidly admit that even if they had an accurate intelligence picture of who was committing these crimes and how they were doing it, they could not arrest their way out of the situation. There are simply too many fraudsters and too few cops. A reasonable barometer of the policing response in London is that any fraud up to £50,000 is not investigated by detectives, but rather is left to the uniformed response officers (those you see endlessly driving round in cars from call to call). Don't forget that these are the people who run towards explosions, crazed gunman, terrorists etc whilst everyone else is running away. Their individual workload is such that they do not have the capacity or indeed the skill-set to investigate these crimes properly and as a result, you will not be surprised to learn that very few indeed result in an arrest let alone a prosecution. As far as victims are concerned, it is clear that fraud ruins people's lives. I'm aware of some who have found the trauma so great that they have killed themselves.
It is against this backdrop that we decided that, on balance, dealing with our reformed fraudster to provide education and insight into the tradecraft and methodology of fraudsters was a good thing. We made it clear from the outset that if we believed he was not genuinely reformed and had gone back to his old ways - we would inform Police immediately. In return for him providing us with the detail behind how scams are carried out, we have agreed never to identify him. We have now had a number of requests from the media to interview us all to explore this strange relationship, but irrespective of any assurances made to protect his identity, he has steadfastly refused to participate and we have respected that.
In an ideal world, reporting and intelligence systems would be set up to encourage and accurately record all allegations of fraud. Police would be adequately resourced to investigate offences and as a result, fraudsters would believe there was a significant risk of being caught. We are a long way from there.
We could have easily decided that this was 'not our problem' however, that appears to be the attitude of everyone else, including the financial services industry. We could have decided to do something else aimed at earning an income rather than publishing a blog and earning bugger all. We could have decided that we would not soil our hands dealing with ex-criminals - notwithstanding their ability to provide the much needed insight that he can provide. Only time will tell if we are right or wrong, but so far it feels right and 99% of the feedback seems to support that belief.