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Dishonest individuals have always sought to deceive and to take advantage of the most vulnerable in society. Sadly, as our world has increasingly moved online, transforming the way we communicate, do business and live so much of our lives, many fraudsters have used the same technologies to increase their activity and come up with ever more elaborate ways of defrauding vulnerable people. Action Fraud estimates that about 70% of fraud is either conducted online or is cyber-enabled. For most of us, casework relating to scams probably makes up a relatively small amount of our postbag and email inboxes, but that does not mean that this is not a sizeable problem. Clearly, many of the people most at risk of fraud and scams are also among the least likely to come forward to their MPs or to the police and other agencies.
Sadly, I do not need to speculate on this matter, as shortly before I was elected a member of my family received a letter that was apparently from the Serious Fraud Office and that said—this is ironic—that it needed help to catch some serious fraudsters. There was a telephone number supplied, which, when rung, gave details. Unsurprisingly, what was needed was some money to be transferred into an account, which could then be used as some kind of “trap” for the “fraudster”. Unfortunately, my relative wanted to help the authorities and so transferred the money. Of course, there was then another call saying, “Thank you very much for that. We just need that bit more money.” This went on until, fortunately, the one time she went into a post office branch the lady behind the counter, who knew my relative and knew that this was not normal conduct, contacted another relative with her concerns. So this was finally stopped, but only after several thousand pounds had been lost—it still cannot be recovered. More importantly, this has left my relative, who has always been a proud, intelligent and independent person, seeing herself as clumsy and being embarrassed; she feels stupid to have been taken in in such a way.
We, as a must society, must play our part in protecting the most vulnerable, and that includes protecting them against fraudsters, online and otherwise; local authorities, the police and politically and technologically savvy members of our communities must be involved in this. I was heartened to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister authorise the expansion of police volunteer roles, so that individuals with digital skills are able to support police digital investigations by providing the technical expertise to cyber and digital units. That scheme has been piloted in Hampshire and Gloucestershire, and I hope to see it expanded much more widely around the country.
There is much more that can be done in partnership with financial services to trace these criminals. We are all familiar with the necessary anti-money laundering regulations. For anyone wanting to set up a current account or to change signatories on a voluntary organisation’s bank account, navigating the endless paperwork can feel like an interminable process, and yet it is apparently impossible in many of these cases to trace the bank accounts into which these transfers have been made. It is even less likely that any of those moneys will ever be recovered. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of man or of the people running these financial institutions to do much more to enable those accounts to be traced. It is simply not acceptable that victims and vulnerable people are left scared in their own homes. Online threats have changed, and the way that we respond to them must change so that we can protect vulnerable people in our communities.