A police boss has declared war on “despicably heartless” fraudsters after victims in North Wales were tricked out of nearly £9 million.
The pledge from the region’s police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones, came after the North Wales Police and Crime Panel unanimously gave the green light for a 25p a week – increase in the cost of policing.
The 4.5 per cent increase – the equivalent of a one minute landline call – will cost Band D householders just an extra £12.51 a year and is believed to be the lowest rise in Wales.
As well as setting up the new five-strong Economic Crime Unit led by a Detective Inspector, Mr Jones has funded the appointment of a new member of the team at the Victim Help Centre in St Asaph to specialise in supporting fraud victims.
The unit is among a raft of new initiatives announced by Mr Jones, a former police inspector.
North Wales Police’s Major Crime Team is getting 10 more officers to combat organised crime gangs and the threat of county lines drug runners.
Tackling the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people is also a priority, says Mr Jones.
As a result, the Protecting Vulnerable People Unit will be getting an additional 19 officers – eight of them will strengthen the team investigating sexual assaults while the Paedophile Investigation Team will also get an extra officer.
The front line will also boosted with 16 more response officers while there will also be five more community safety officers, including three new members of the pioneering Rural Crime Team.
According to Mr Jones, his strategy is in tune with the wishes of the people of North Wales.
An online survey showed that 95 per cent of them backed the crackdown on organised crime while his campaigns against domestic and sexual abuse attracted over 90 per cent support, with four out five people backing his crusade against modern day slavery.
The need to create the new Economic Crime Unit was, he said, underlined by the growing number of fraud cases.
In the year up to March 2019 more than 4,671 economic crimes were reported in North Wales which represented a 17 per cent increase and losses totalled £8.9 million, an increase of 24 per cent.
The online criminals were becoming increasingly sophisticated with 80 per cent of the offences being cyber-enabled.
More than 40 per cent of frauds were committed against businesses and the biggest single loss recorded in North Wales involved a company swindled out of £7.8 million in an email scam.
The impact of being conned also had a devastating effect of individual victims, some of whom were pushed to the brink of suicide after being duped out of their life-savings.
Mr Jones said: “Setting up the dedicated Economic Crime Unit is something I have asked the force to do because of the increase in the number of fraud cases and the suffering it’s causing people.
“Vulnerable people, very often elderly, are being targeted specifically and that is despicably heartless.
“We have had examples in the past of vulnerable people essentially being groomed over a series of telephone calls and then having money taken from them and loans taken out in their names.
“It’s the worst kind of crime because the victims have worked hard all their lives and saved all their money only to see it disappear after sometimes a couple of phone calls.
“If it sounds too good to be true it probably is and that’s the message that needs to go out.
“It’s important to stress that this is not something we can solve on our own and we also need to educate people to educate themselves as well as catching the perpetrators.”
It was a message echoed by Chief Inspector Brian Kearney, the local policing lead for fraud based in Caernarfon.
He said: “The key message is that anyone can be a victim of fraud because the criminals by their very nature are extremely competent and intelligent individuals who will prey on people’s fear of losing money to cause them to divert money elsewhere without thinking of the consequences.
“They purport to be from a bank, the inland revenue, the police, any other agency or department telling the victim they need to move their money immediately as it is at risk. They will come across as professional and they will sound as if they were from a reputable company.
“The victims will divert their money based on a phone call, giving the fraudsters access to their computers to allow them to take over their bank accounts, and in the worst case scenario in some types of fraud they will go to a bank, withdraw the money, hand it over to a courier acting on behalf of the fraudster.
“The challenge for us is making people understand that it could be them, because nobody thinks that they could be scammed in this way.
“In cases that I have dealt with, that money has been moved out internationally through a number of UK bank accounts and out of the UK within an hour, which is incredible.”
“In the worst cases it is life-changing and it destroys people’s lives.”
The dedicated Economic Crime Unit will supplement the work of the officers within North Wales Police already trained to tackle fraud cases and financial investigations.
Superintendent Sian Beck, the force’s director of intelligence, said: “Nationally, our figures show we are actually very effective at investigating fraud.
“But we need to realise going forward that fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated, their methods are becoming more complex and we need to invest for the future.”