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EDITOR’S BLOG: House of frauds

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30/03/2007

The most aggravating theft that happened to me was the day I got my wallet nicked at a Cornish pasty outlet at Fenchurch Street station in the City of London.

I had plucked out a fiver to pay for my Beefy Big One and put the wallet on the counter to take my steaming savoury with one hand and the change being proffered with the other.

My attention was distracted for no more than ten seconds – but it was enough. When I turned round to pick up the wallet, it had gone along with the thief. All the more galling for me as I pride myself on being a sharp Londoner, a native cockney boy amongst the foolish provincial folk who work in the capital in their tens of thousands.

The usual emotions followed, mainly one of intense anger at myself for being so stupid. I called the police and a bored constable finally arrived to jot down a few details and crack a few tired jokes, without once suggesting he would catch the culprit or even bother looking for them.

But the main pain in my backside was calling the bank and the credit card companies to alert them to the fact that my plastic was no longer in my possession and was in all likelihood being put through its financial paces by the sod who’d lifted it.

This took ages and some of the card companies seemed to employ halfwits who found the very idea of a stolen credit card quite amazing. “They did what? You mean to say someone’s taken your card? But that’s terrible. They could use it, you know, and spend your money.” You get the drift – I was not dealing with the Albert Einstein Society and by the end of the process I had also reached the exact same point of my tether.

Still, it all sorted itself out in the end and I didn’t lose anything from my cards. But the levels of fraud and theft prevalent in the personal finance sphere are frankly heart-stopping when you think about them. Apacs, the trade body for card issuers, tells us that £428m was siphoned out of people’s accounts by card fraud alone in 2006, and then congratulates itself that this is 3% down on the previous two years. And, in case you want the full mathematical picture, this amounted to just over 700,000 cases where the loss was an average £608.

To complete this resume of a staggeringly profitable criminal enterprise (well, it looks that way to me), cheque fraud losses were down 24% to £30.6m (no one writes cheques any more, do they?), while online banking fraud increased 44% to £33.5m. This is hoving up to the half-a-billion mark in ill-gotten gains, which in the leagues of criminality is serious money indeed.

The point of all this is to say that from Sunday 1st April (I know, I know), the rules are changing when you become the victim of cheque, plastic card or online fraud offences. Your first point of contact is not the police but the financial institution involved in the dodgy transactions, which will itself relay your complaint on to the police, so you are relieved of that often frustrating task.

Apparently, according to Apacs, the point of the new system is to “reduce the level of bureaucracy involved in fraud recording and to streamline the reporting, recording and investigation of such frauds.” If there is an additional crime connected to the fraud, like getting your wallet pinched, then the police deal with it in the normal way.

Which, in my experience, was no sort of way at all.
 

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