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Finance industry praised for fighting crime

Key figures from the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency have praised the contribution made by the financial services industry to fighting corporate crime at the Finance and Leasing Associations recent financial crime conference.

Leigh Lewis from the Home Office singled out FLA members for special praise as sponsors of the Vehicle Fraud Unit as an “excellent example of business taking its share of the responsibility for tackling financial crime”. In the first six months of this year, the unit had seized 80 vehicles with a book value of 1.4m.

He also outlined some of the ways that government is stepping up its efforts to combat financial crime, including the introduction of the Fraud Bill in May 2005 to help investigators and prosecutors keep pace with fraud and threats like phishing. From January 2006, it will bring into force provisions to enable the most serious and complex fraud trials to take place without a jury to produce shorter, more effective trials.

Lewis says government strategy is to give police and law enforcement agencies stronger powers to disrupt criminal activity and convict those responsible. He adds: “Our clear message to police and prosecutors is catch, convict and confiscate. And we are giving them a clear incentive to do so. From next year, all the agencies involved in recovering criminal assets will get back 50p for every 1 they recover.”

He says the government is also committed to improving the way in which suspicious activity reports on money laundering are collected, analysed and used. He adds: “Instead of just looking at the raw data in individual reports, the National Criminal Intelligence Service is now focussing more on trends, patterns and emerging types of money laundering as well as targeted suspects and passing this intelligence to law enforcement for action.”

Paul Evans, executive director intervention of SOCA, which becomes operational in April 2006, also highlighted an intelligence-based approach as being central to the agencys commitment to reduce the harm caused by serious organised crime, which costs the UK up to 40bn.

This includes collaborating with the private sector and introducing innovative and unconventional ways of working to “go after difficult, dangerous and nasty criminals with rigour, fairness and precision.” Evans says the intelligence-led agency brings together the expertise of several agencies to provide greater consistency, avoid duplication and limit bureaucracy.

Detective chief superintendent Nigel Mawer, head of economic and specialist crime for the Metropolitan Police, called for joined-up thinking in terms of sharing intelligence and information as well as the proactive prevention of financial crime and targeting of criminal networks.

He cites the Suspicious Activity Reporting system as an example of ways finance professionals and the police can share intelligence to bring results. For example, there were 834 disclosures submitted to the Metropolitan Police in just one week this year.

Proactive prevention includes the interactive Met Police Fraudalert website, and the Proof and Alert systems available to help protect legitimate businesses against the estimated 15m a year fraud committed through Companies House. Mawers says since putting a dedicated member of police staff in place at Companies House, 175 cases of potential fraud have been identified.

Mawer also warned against fraud via wire transfers. He says: “Dont send a money transfer to anyone you dont know or you will be the victim of fraud.”

He outlined scams taking place on ebay and detailed the work being undertaken by the Metropolitan Police in Nigeria to help beat crime originating there and destined for the UK.
Since Operation Sterling was launched in April 2005 the sterling enforcement team has made 53 arrests, seized 2.6m and restrained 4.7m in cash.

Mawyer took delegates through the benefits of public/private sector sponsorships, citing examples like the VFU, which has already resulted in 541 vehicles being recovered. He says it makes good sense for businesses to invest twice by sponsorship because of the return they would get on their investment – a five- or six-fold return by the VFU, for example.

Philip Robinson, financial crime sector leader for the Financial Services Association, reinforced this by saying that paying for dedicated police resources such as with the VFU or Dedicated Plastic Crime Unit made good financial sense and praised the FLA for having good ideas and trying to drive things forward. He stressed fighting financial crime reduces harm by making it more difficult to fund terrorism and urged the buy-in of the whole industry to anti-money laundering and anti-fraud measures as part of a risk management approach – a core element of the third EU Money Laundering Directive – not just part of the regulatory framework.

Robinson says key elements in fighting financial crime include making it more difficult and costly for criminals. He adds: “It is a business and if they get caught or it will cost them, they wont do it.”

Detective superintendent Trevor Shepherd of the Metropolitan Police chaired the conference, which also included a range of practical workshops. Delegates were able to pick up tips on spotting fraudulent applications, learn about money laundering guidance, find out how to avoid lending to fraudsters who have stolen the identity of deceased people and discover the pitfalls of relying on Companies House data.


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