Tackling fraud requires more ‘invisible’ policing - Dr Alan Billings

This week, the government is seeking to raise consciousness about fraud through a campaign called: “Stop! Think Fraud”. This is absolutely right since this type of crime is among the fastest growing and most concerning, accounting for almost 40 per cent of all crime.

It affects organisations and individuals alike. With the internet, the perpetrators can be in this country or anywhere in the world. Fraud catches out everyone – young and old, sharp witted or feeble minded.

The more savvy we think we are, the more foolish we feel when we fall for it. Many criminals are not so bright. Fraudsters can be very clever. And they learn quickly about what works. And we fall for it.

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It is highly likely that everyone who reads this has already had numerous phone calls that we have come to recognise as attempts to defraud us and have learnt to put the phone down. But this just means that criminals have to get cleverer and more convincing. And they do.

A woman holding a credit card and making an online purchase using a laptop. PIC: Alamy/PAA woman holding a credit card and making an online purchase using a laptop. PIC: Alamy/PA
A woman holding a credit card and making an online purchase using a laptop. PIC: Alamy/PA

The government launched a Fraud Strategy last May. It has three strands to it – pursuing perpetrators, blocking frauds from reaching the public, enabling people to avoid it and respond appropriately when it gets through.

The current campaign has been developed by the City of London Police (the lead force nationally), the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Crime Agency.

What the fraudsters are good at is behavioural psychology. They understand instinctively what many of our young people seem keen to study in school, college and university; what makes us behave in the ways we do.

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I recall reading about Richard Thaler’s ‘nudge’ theory in the early 2000s. He realised that if you tell people directly to do something, they are likely to resist. ‘Eat healthily’ does not work. But putting eye-catching displays of appetising foods in superstores does.

Sending harsh letters to people who do not pay their taxes on time may not work. But telling them that most of their neighbours have paid, and they are, therefore, in a small minority in the place where they live, does.

The fraudsters use similar behavioural insights. They know that one way of getting us to act foolishly is to get us to act quickly – because if we don’t we miss out on something. A phone call or an email saying we are due a tax rebate or have won a prize, but we must respond immediately because of a deadline, puts us mentally in a ‘hot state’ when we make mistakes and do foolish things. The campaign seeks to get us to “Stop!” and “Think Fraud”.

One other aspect of this which probably does not feature in the campaign, but should, is explaining to the public what the implication of all this is for policing.

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Among other things it means that we need more invisible police – not people in uniforms on the streets, but people behind computers, tracing fraudsters and blocking their activities.

This is generally not something people in community meetings want to hear.

What is the most important part of the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC)? As I come towards the end of my term (and time) as PCC, I think I can give an unequivocal answer.thing people in community meetings want to hear. The work that I think is the most important part of the PCC’s role is that of holding the police to account.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.

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