Monday 9 December 2019 12:01 am

White collar crime prosecutions fall despite jump in reported offences

The number of white collar crime prosecutions in the UK has fallen to its lowest level in five years, according to figures published today.

Prosecutions fell 14 per cent to 6,670 last year, from 7,790 in 2017, research from Thomson Reuters showed.

White collar crime includes offences such as money laundering, fraud, insider trading and cybercrime.

In contrast to the fall in prosecutions for white collar crime, the total number of fraud and computer misuse offences reported jumped to the highest number on record.

Read more: Data breaches drive losses from fraud up to £1.2bn

In the year to 31 March the number of offences reported increased to 693,420, up from 638,360 in 2017-18. 

Thomson Reuters said possible reasons for the fall in prosecutions include government cuts to police resources and the increasing sophistication of fraudsters.

A recent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found many police fraud teams had been reduced, with resources diverted to other crime priorities.

As a result, some fraud teams were only able to pursue one investigation at a time, with some more complex cases not pursued at all.

According to the National Audit Office, there has been a 19 per cent inflation-adjusted fall in the amount of central and local government funding to police forces between 2010-11 and 2018-19.

Read more: HMRC collects extra £5.4bn via specialist fraud investigation team

Fraud is also becoming more sophisticated, Thomson Reuters said, with many cases involving cross-border transactions across multiple jurisdictions.

Fraudsters have also adopted new technologies such as cryptocurrencies.

Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, estimates that £3-4bn is laundered using crypto-assets each year in Europe. 

Charles Thomson, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie, said: “Budget cuts are taking their toll on police forces, who are having to downsize fraud teams whilst fraud cases continue to rise. 

“The result is that police forces may not always have capacity to investigate complex fraud cases and are more likely to focus on the investigation of other offences, which are likely to be less resource intensive. 

“We regularly see fraud cases being reported by victims to the police’s fraud reporting centre, Action Fraud. that never appear to be followed up. There is an urgent need for more police funding in this area and without this, the situation will only get worse.”