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Call for new law enforcement agency to focus on economic crime

Written by: Emma Lunn
A Treasury Committee report described the number of agencies responsible for fighting economic crime and fraud as ‘bewildering’ – and suggested a new single body should be set up.

Currently, responsibility for economic crime and fraud falls to police forces, HMRC and the National Crime Agency, as well as a number of different government departments.

In a series of recommendations, the Treasury Committee report on economic crime called for more resources to fight scams and fraud. As well as a law enforcement shake-up, it also suggested online platforms such as Facebook and Google should be held responsible for people duped by scammers on their sites.

The committee’s report said the government wasn’t doing enough to combat online fraud as a growing number of victims are duped out of large sums of money.

The report also recommended that the government urgently legislates to make reimbursement for victims of ‘authorised push payment’ fraud mandatory – repeating a call made by the previous Treasury Committee in 2019.

Authorised push payment fraud is where someone tricks you into sending them money from your account. They often do this by contacting you via phone, email or social media and pretending to be someone else – such as your bank, a contractor, a conveyancing solicitor, or the police.

The group of MPs also called for proper regulation to be introduced to protect consumers from fraud and money laundering in the cryptoasset industry.

Another topic in the report was Companies House reform, with MPs calling for higher company formation fees in order to prevent fraudsters from hiding their identities behind UK businesses to launder money and conduct crime.

Mel Stride MP, chair of the Treasury Committee, said: “For too long, pernicious scammers have acted with impunity, ripping off innocent consumers with fraudulent online adverts, impersonation scams and dodgy crypto investments.

“Unfortunately, fraud has soared during the pandemic, and as MPs we’ve heard heart-breaking stories of individuals who have fallen victim to these criminals and lost large sums of money.

“While the government have made some progress in this area, we’re today calling on them to push harder and act faster on the growing fraud epidemic. Some of our recommendations, such as legislating against online scam adverts, can be implemented quickly. Others, including crypto regulation and Companies House reform, will require a longer-term approach. Taken together, our proposals give the UK a fighting chance to get back on the front foot and stop these scammers in their tracks.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “The government must act on the Treasury Committee’s recommendation for the Online Safety Bill to include paid-for scam adverts and for online platforms to be given a legal duty to prevent this fraudulent content from appearing in the first place.

“Online scams have a devastating impact on victims and there is now an overwhelming consensus that the government must force the biggest tech companies to finally take responsibility for fraud carried out using their platforms.

“The committee is also right to call for the government to legislate urgently to make reimbursement mandatory for bank transfer scam victims and to put an end to the unfair and inconsistent treatment many victims face when trying to get their money back after they are targeted by fraudsters.”

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