What is UK’s fraud strategy? Cold calling, SIM farms, spoofing plans explained - what did Martin Lewis say
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to tackle scams at their source - but there are questions over whether the government is putting enough money into the scheme
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Rishi Sunak said his administration would “take the fight to fraudsters”, with Home Office estimates suggesting scams now account for 40% of all crimes. As part of the drive, 400 specialist investigators will form up a new National Fraud Squad. It comes after a rise in the number of scams during Covid and the cost of living crisis. In recent months, major businesses like Booking.com, Currys and Evri have been targeted.
Criminals have also latched on to government communications and national events, with the UK Emergency Alarm test and cost of living payments being targeted by fraudsters. The ongoing Passport Office strikes have also been exploited. So, what is in the new government anti-fraud strategy - and what are experts, like Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, saying about it?
What is in the National Fraud Strategy?
The UK government’s new strategy to tackle scams was launched by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday (3 May). There are three key planks to Sunak’s plan. These are:
- Outlawing ‘SIM farms’ - devices loaded with hundreds of SIM cards which allow scammers to send smishing texts to thousands of people at once.
- Cracking down on ‘spoofing’ - a form of fraud where criminals impersonate UK numbers, or attempt to convince people they are calling from banks, or other trusted firms. The government says they will work with communications regulator Ofcom to put an end to the crime.
- Banning cold calling from finance firms - the government hopes it will mean scam calls selling cryptocurrency schemes or fake insurance are more obvious to people.
Meanwhile, the Sunak administration is also planning to work with tech companies to make it as simple as possible to report online fraud. They hope to create a ‘report’ button social media users can find with just a single click.
The government will also look at how banks can be given more time to process payments, so that they can investigate suspicious transactions before they go through. At the same time, a new £30 million reporting centre will be set up so that people can report scams more easily. This will be up and running over the next 12 months, the government said.
Other than the £30 million centre, no new funding has been announced for the scheme. But the government said it would be creating 400 investigator jobs at a new National Fraud Squad. This agency will be run by both the National Crime Agency and City of London Police - the force that leads on UK-wide criminal investigations into scams.
With the government saying 70% of fraudulent activity has been originating from abroad, it has also pledged to harness its relationships with other countries and use the UK’s intelligence agencies to stop scams at source.
What has the government said?
Launching the new National Fraud Strategy, the Prime Minister said he wanted to “make sure justice is done” by catching scammers.
“Scammers ruin lives in seconds, deceiving people in the most despicable ways in order to line their pockets,” Rishi Sunak said. “We will take the fight to these fraudsters, wherever they try to hide. By blocking scams at the source, boosting protections for people and bolstering enforcement, we will stop more of these cold-hearted crimes from happening in the first place.”
The PM has appointed a new anti-fraud champion, South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne, who will oversee the implementation of the fraud plan.
What have experts said about the national fraud strategy?
Personal finance experts have cautiously welcomed the government’s scam-prevention plan.
Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis described it as a “good first step in the right direction”. Mr Lewis, who is often impersonated by scammers in fake adverts, said that “few” scams are currently investigated and that “fewer still” prosecutions come out of them.
But Mr Lewis said the new plans “should improve prevention and prosecution, but it will be slow going. Ultimately this is all about putting enough resources in to build a dam to stop the flood. I hope we will see that happen.”
He added: “The most important change here is one of attitude. It’s only just over a year since the then-Business Secretary said fraud wasn’t a ‘real’ crime. Now it is being made a priority crime, with extra resources and a commitment to reduce it. That’s important.”
Which? director of policy and advocacy, Rocio Concha, said she believed “consumers will judge the success of this strategy by whether they end up with better fraud detection, prevention, support and redress.”
The political reaction has been less supportive of the measures. Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said the new strategy “ignores the tens of billions being lost to fraud against businesses and the government, and relies on estimates of the cost of fraud to members of the public that are seven years out of date”. The Labour frontbencher appeared to be referring to the Covid support scheme fraud seen during the pandemic.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the plans were “just a drop in the ocean” as they did not contain the provisions needed to protect victims of scams.