Is the UK’s anti-fraud strategy achieving its aims?

IT WAS IN HER CAPACITY as Attorney General that Baroness Scotland launched the ‘National Fraud Strategic Authority’ three years ago next month; and it is now time that we started being honest about the level of progress made to date in its report card.

The NF(S)A should “fight against fraud in a more aggressive and hostile way and make fraudsters very frightened” Baroness Scotland said during the launch. So how would the three-year report card stack up against this?

A recent survey of fraud professionals by UK Fraud reviewed progress against the main eight objectives of the National Fraud Authority (the “strategic” part of its name was dropped early on). The majority of fraud experts surveyed felt the NFA had made only some impact.

Interestingly, by 2011, a revamped NFA website seemed to suggest that half of the organisation’s objectives had been removed. No longer does the NFA boast that key to the fight was “collaboration, strategic authority and co-ordination across industry”, but has seemingly moved as an organisation, to being a cross-government body under the mantra “we sit at the heart of government with access to key decision-makers and ministers across a range of key departments.”

So where does this leave those of us waiting across many industries for strategic leadership and the promised aggressive, joined-up action.

So let’s review the eight NF(S)A stated objectives that were key deliverables for nearly three years.

  • Public/Private sector data-sharing – Some fraud experts might ask where this objective has gone? – F 
  • Action Fraud reporting – Infrastructure now set up to report fraud (by a third-party organisation), which would warrant an A, although some question the type and quantity of reports – C
  • Support for victims – This is an area that I cannot agree with the critique that I hear, as the NFA put forward a very good account of its victim support. Others, though, might wonder what substance there is here – B/D?
  • Provide information about fraud – There was a great website, but all my bookmarked pages and searches lead to a brief Home Office page and all the updates and reports don’t seem be on-line – E
  • To build and exploit improved information and knowledge, providing a centre of expertise to raise the priority of fraud, secure and target counter fraud resource appropriately and achieve better prevention and enforcement of fraud – I have reproduced this objective from the NFA verbatim, as I have evolved fraud solutions and strategy for over 25 years and still can’t work out exactly what this means or find anyone else that can – F
  • To address the key fraud enablers and high-threat areas by prioritising and driving forward specific multi-partner interventions to reduce them – Among the survey responses, there were a number that felt that some progress had been made. Others question what this means in practice – C
  • To ensure there is an appropriate balance in the criminal justice system between fraud prevention and disruption and the use of criminal justice powers. Also, to ensure that the criminal and civil enforcement measures used against fraudsters are as effective as possible –Sadly, I have not heard enough about this to report on it, but some people might see this as a sign of little progress, too – U
  • Championing best practice – Most people are left wondering how to assess this objective, albeit a small number of people judged this to be a success of the NFA – and accordingly, its best result – B

Surely the NFA now needs a new mentor to help it get back on track. Maybe it needs a new ‘loud’ politician to kick it off again and start afresh. Such a radical action could help drive this forward. With the Home Office now responsible for the NFA, we also now need much more involvement of experienced anti-fraud practitioners, not just civil servants.

As self-appointed and self-styled headmaster, what concluding opinions might I have? “After three years, the ‘pupil’ is, struggling to find keenly awaited and significant success. With both fewer and diluted objectives to be judged against, the pupil now needs a lot of help and possibly the opportunity to repeat a year or two to catch up.”

Bill Trueman is managing director of risk management consultancy UK Fraud

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