UK fraud cases at 21-year high

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The Independent Online

The number of fraud cases passing through the UK's courts set a 21-year record in the first six months of this year, accountancy firm KPMG said today.

Charges of serious fraud, where more than £100,000 is embezzled, totalled 163 in the first half of this year, with a combined value of £636 million.

And if the figure is matched in the second half of the year, it will exceed the current highest annual total of £1.2 billion set in 1995.

KPMG's fraud barometer, which has been carried out for the past 21 years, found investors were the worst hit, as they suffered losses of £321 million - more than half the overall amount in just 17 cases.

The Government was the next biggest victim, with almost £153 million taken in 38 cases, mostly in the form of tax and duty evasion and fraudulent benefit claims.

Financial institutions suffered 44 cases of fraud, totalling more than £111 million.

Hitesh Patel, a partner at KPMG Forensic, said: "These figures are bad, but the worst is yet to come. It will be a number of years before the impact of recession fully feeds through into the fraud statistic."

The economic crisis takes some of the blame, according to Mr Patel: "Hard times mean more people driven to fraud by personal pressures, and more investors willing to believe in cooked-up investment schemes."

Professional criminals were responsible for the vast majority of frauds, in both combined value and number of cases. Gangs of fraudsters embezzled more than £447 million from their victims in 70 cases.

Managers stole almost £150 million from their own companies in the period in 32 cases and other employees took nearly £24 million in 31 cases.

Mr Patel said: "Companies too remain vulnerable to the threat within - their staff - as evidenced by the £150 million of fraud that managers have been tried for in the last six months alone."

Property scams played a key role, with some high-profile cases proving lucrative for con-artists.

A large buy-to-let fraud in the North East tricked as many as 2,000 investors out of £80 million, as they put money into properties which often turned out to be little more than derelict shells.

Mortgage fraud accounted for £24 million in the first half of the year, and KMPG expects home loan scams to rise as the recession continues.

"Britain's fraud problem remains a serious one," Mr Patel continued.

"The authorities have become very active in the fight against fraud, but it is especially challenging in times of recession."

The report found determined and audacious fraudsters took money in innovative and ruthless scams.

A Hartlepool-based food product company had £2.5 million siphoned by its managing director over a 12-month period, and a charity finance manager in Manchester paid herself nearly £500,000 over a decade by processing bogus payments.

One social worker in the North West made up an entire children's home called Cherrywood which did not exist. She authorised payments for the home and its 'staff' into her own bank account, taking more than £600,000 of public funds over five years.