Are you OK with cookies?

We use small files called ‘cookies’ on Some are essential to make the site work, some help us to understand how we can improve your experience, and some are set by third parties. You can choose to turn off the non-essential cookies. Which cookies are you happy for us to use?

Skip to content

Fraud: the poor relation?

Dame Vera gives the keynote speech at the Annual Fraud Conference, March 2022

Fraud has reached epidemic proportions and its scale is truly staggering. Yet you wouldn't know it judging by the criminal justice system's response.

For more victims to come forward, we need to make the reporting process clear to people. We need clear signposting on where to get help and a consistent victim service offer across England and Wales. And we need to ensure that fraud victims receive their rights under the Victims’ Code.
Dame Vera Baird’s keynote speech at the Annual Fraud Conference, March 2022

This article was first featured in Dame Vera Baird’s 2021/22 Annual Report, published on 21 June 2021.

My brilliant research team and I decided to research who is a victim of fraud, not least of all so we might point to what support they need to cope and recover from its impact. We review some of our – quite surprising – findings here. Our overall conclusion? The government’s long-awaited fraud strategy can’t come soon enough.

As a citizen of England and Wales, I stand a 1 in 15 chance of falling victim to fraud each year. This towers over my chances of falling victim to any other crime: approximately a 1 in 75 chance of falling victim to personal theft, a 1 in 80 chance of falling victim to interpersonal violence, and a 1 in 600 chance of falling victim to robbery. Fraud is indiscriminate, ubiquitous and it is flourishing.

The volume crime of our times

Fraud has become the volume crime of our times. The Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) 2021 estimated there were over 5 million incidents of fraud for the year to September 2021. That means fraud accounts for a staggering 4 in 10 crimes.

Yet fraud is under-reported, under-investigated and under-prosecuted. If I am one of the 15% or so fraud victims who report to the police or Action Fraud, I stand around a 1 in 30 chance of having it investigated and a 1 in 200 chance of the case resulting in a charge, summons, caution or community resolution. The figures speak for themselves: there were approximately 8,000 fraud prosecutions in 2019, set against around 800,000 reports to City of London police, and over 3 million fraud victims. Only the tiniest proportion of fraud victims are receiving a criminal justice outcome.

For too long fraud was seen as a victimless crime but that is not true. Of these 5.1m incidents of fraud in 2021, over a quarter (26%) resulted in a loss that was either not refunded at all or only partially refunded. If I fall prey to an authorised push payment (APP) scam, where I am tricked into sending my money to a fraudster, I stand a less than 50% chance of getting my money back. That is even though the Contingent Reimbursement Code (the voluntary code that governs bank repayments) suggests that money from these scams should be reimbursed in all but exceptional circumstances.

So why is it then that victims of fraud are facing such a difficult time gaining access to justice? Why are the rights of victims of fraud being disregarded? A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) provided some answers. They said that the police forces are under-resourced to deal with fraud crimes and that fraud victims are not seen as a priority.

In my appearances before the House of Commons Justice Committee in February and the House of Lords Committee on the Fraud Act in April I told them how there is insufficient police resourcing allocated to fraud.

At present, only around 2% of police resources are allocated to it – that’s 2% of resource devoted to tackling 40% of all crime. Fraud must become a greater priority for policing. The amount of resource allocated to investigating fraud needs to better match the scale of the problem.

Who suffers fraud?

Even now, despite the prevalence of fraud, when we think of the word ‘victim’, fraud is probably not one of the first crimes that springs to mind. Fraud covers a huge spectrum of impact on victims – from no effect at all to severe impacts. One of the things I wanted to do in my October 2021 report ‘Who Suffers Fraud’ was to identify and quantify those who are most impacted, those who really need support and/or those who need a criminal justice outcome. In the report, I highlighted how around 700,000 victims are vulnerable to fraud and are severely harmed by it.

Based on crime survey data, I found that around 22% of fraud victims were seriously affected by the crime.

In high-harm fraud cases, victims frequently suffered deeply. This meant they were likely to rate the seriousness of the crime as 10 or over on a 1-20 scale of severity; they were likely to have had multiple emotional reactions, such as anxiety, loss of confidence, difficulty sleeping, anger or shock after the incident. Many people felt a loss of trust in others, or even a relationship breakdown as a result of the incident. And they were likely to have lost money and not been reimbursed.

Fraud strategy: no more time for delay

As my research shows, the government’s long-awaited fraud strategy cannot come quickly enough. It needs to be bold, ambitious and backed up by significant resourcing to tackle this growing problem. Anything less will be a disservice to victims.

For too long, the criminal justice system has treated fraud as a poor relation. The growing problem has not been matched by increasing resource and the victim response is grossly inadequate. In the current climate, very few fraudsters are investigated or prosecuted. There are some basic steps that could be addressed to help victims.

Make it clear where fraud needs to be reported to. Action Fraud is the central reporting hub but many people do not know this. My work has shown that many people report directly to the police and are then re-directed to Action Fraud. As a victim, being re-directed is off-putting and can lead to victims feeling they are not being taken seriously.

Put an end to victim-blaming. If a victim has unwittingly transferred money into a fraudster’s account, the banks are supposed to reimburse unless the victim has been grossly negligent or ignored effective warnings. But the Payment Systems Regulator has recently estimated that refunds are being refused in more than half of all cases. This feels like victim-blaming.

Make support pathways clear to victims. Give victims the support they need and clearly define where they need to go for emotional and practical help. Fraud is an atypical crime which is dealt with atypically, but people need to know that there is specialist support out there from the likes of Victim Support and the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit (NECVCU) and they need to know how to access this.

Any one of us can fall victim to fraud. It is most certainly not a victimless crime and its impacts can be severe. As Victims’ Commissioner, fraud is well within my sights and I am looking to the government to hold firm on its promise to do better for fraud victims. We can hardly do much worse.

This article was first featured in Dame Vera Baird’s 2021/22 Annual Report, published on 21 June 2021.