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Case Studies

Portsmouth fraud day

Yesterday saw as informed a debate on how best for police to go about investigating fraud as Professional Security has ever heard. It rounded off the 2021 Annual Counter Fraud and Forensic Accounting Conference by the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, and it was thanks to covid, writes Mark Rowe.

It was thanks to covid because it was the first online Portsmouth fraud conference, after the 2020 one was cancelled due to the pandemic. Before covid, the midsummer conference was a rarity in private security in the UK – an event where practitioners, typically students taking counter-fraud courses, and academics, and practitioners who have become academics, even, such as the irrepressible ‘frauditor’ Dr Peter Tickner, could come together, and hear and give the latest research, with an international flavour, and showing the variety of frauds out there: to mention some of the 2021 topics, bribery in UK construction, intellectual property crime, romance fraud, cyber, and insurance fraud.

What the pre-2021 events required of you was to be in Portsmouth that day; which as often as not in the 2010s Professional Security could not make (pictured, the 2013 event). From the backgrounds of the people that commented from the floor (including Professional Security) in that debate that closed the seven hour event (with plenty of breaks) it was evident that many practical fraud investigators, police and other (such as NHS) were attending online that would probably not have been able to, in person, pre-covid.

It’s something to dwell on not only because it’s a rare plus from the pandemic, and something to clutch at; but the vastly greater number of online attenders compared with those that paid to go to a physical Portsmouth event made for a more intellectually useful event all round.

Come to think of it, it also was an advert for Portsmouth as a place to study (it was sunny, said the academics there, not just the background from their screens) and for its counter-fraud and criminology courses in particular – with some choice, by the sound of it – with certificates in intellectual property crime, and preventing bribery and corruption, and an MSc in economic crime and MSc in forensic accounting, through Portsmouth’s Business School – itself an interesting place for the course to belong.

To return to that debate, chaired by Prof Mark Button, the event organiser and director of the Centre, the case for regionalisation or nationalisation of police fraud investigation was made by Michael Skidmore, researcher for the Police Foundation; and against by Dr Peter Tickner, the retired frauditor and former Met Police auditor, a man who you suspect could not walk through a forest without shaking any log to see what wood beetles might scamper out of it. He’s also enjoyable plain-speaking; he described the national police reporting line Action Fraud, ‘as all know on the inside’ as ‘useless’. Others from the audience seconded that; and as Professional Security has said before, if there is anyone who has anything good to say about Action Fraud (even the people who set it up), we have never heard them.

But as Professional Security has said in the July print edition of the magazine, there soon comes a point where if something is failing, you have to try to do something about it. And Peter Tickner summing up made the good point that a lot of fraud does not need to be investigated by police in the first place; for police going through the criminal courts need a higher level of proof than if you seek asset recovery in the civil courts – which, to leave Peter a second, may be what the victims want more, than imprisoning an offender.

And Michael Skidmore in summing up made the most important point of the day – to paraphrase, there is so much fraud (‘volume crime’) that at root more police need to be investigating it, wherever or however they are based; although as members of the audience had earlier set out, police do not understand fraud nor like taking cases on; and fraud will always be of a lower priority than other crimes.

Michael Skidmore said that ‘we don’t want half measures’: “What we really need is more capability, to deal with a crime that is clearly on the rise.” And, as earlier members of the audience had argued, he said we need to bring in more organisations with (fraud investigator) specialisms – which, he added, is much easier at the regional police level, by building on the ROCUs (regional organised crime units).

Ironically, a half-measure is what may work best for the Portsmouth conference from 2022, as Prof Mark Button hinted in his brief summing up. He said he had enjoyed the (online day), but enjoyed seeing people more.

The future it seems, at least in conference terms, is hybrid.

More reading

In 2018 the Police Foundation published a two year research project which looked at the police response to victims of fraud with Perpetuity Research. For the report, More than just a number: Improving the police response to victims of fraud, visit https://www.police-foundation.org.uk/publication/more-than-just-a-number-improving-the-police-response-to-victims-of-fraud/. For reports from the Portsmouth Centre, visit https://www.port.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-groups/centre-for-counter-fraud-studies.


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