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Fraud: a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’

13 May 2020: the Fraud Advisory Panel is the voice of the counter-fraud profession, committed to tackling fraud and financial crime. Mia Campbell, its Head of Operations, tells ICAEW Insights how fraudsters are exploiting the coronavirus for their own gain.

“When I first started out in this field 17 years ago, fraud used to be a word often spoken in hushed tones, behind closed doors. There were no official statistics, no dedicated Act, and no official focus on it,” says Campbell.

“Despite considerable change since then, the perennial problem remains: keeping up – or even one step ahead – of the fraudsters as they constantly evolve and adapt their tactics is a continuing challenge for professionals and society alike.”

The fast-paced and borderless nature of much fraud today, not to mention our digital-first culture adds fuel to the flames. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a rise in related crime as fraudsters seek to exploit the crisis for their own gain. 

“Many of these are variations of old frauds in a new COVID-19 disguise,” says Campbell, “and so far we’re seeing an uptick in phishing emails purporting to be from the government or other trusted brands, online shopping and auction fraud, payment diversion and mandate fraud, CEO fraud, phoenix companies, and data breaches (associated with home working practices). Undoubtedly at some point, we’ll see increases in insider and business fraud too through desperation, financial hardship and economic uncertainty.”

In response, the Fraud Advisory Panel has set up a ‘COVID-19 Fraud Watch Group’ which aims to act as a conduit to warn the public, private and third sectors about current and emerging fraud risks throughout the pandemic and the preventative actions that can be taken.

Each week, the cross-sector, cross-industry group joins a call to share the latest crime trends and advice. This information is then rapidly collated and fed back out to partners, including local and international Chambers of Commerce, Cabinet Office, City of London Police and other counter fraud bodies in the form of an update that can be easily cascaded to their respective clients, members and networks. 

This two-way flow of information means that law enforcement and government also glean valuable insights into what counter-fraud professionals are seeing on the ground in the wider business world. The results are tangible too with actionable intelligence flowing into law enforcement as well.

“The initiative will continue until 11 June when it will be re-evaluated,” says Campbell, “and we’re now turning our attention to what we can do to support and protect businesses as we begin to emerge from the crisis”.

While everyone has some individual responsibility for tackling fraud and remaining vigilant, businesses will often look to their accountant as a trusted source of information and advice on fraud-related matters,” says Campbell. “And with fraud on the rise more generally it is becoming increasingly important that we all understand the risk it poses to us. This is where we feel we can make a difference by making sure that everyone has access to the right tools and support.”

The panel’s origins stem from a public-spirited initiative by ICAEW twenty-two years ago (which continues to support its work). This identified the need for an independent forum with the knowledge, experience and authority to champion counter-fraud best practice. Fast forward to today and the Fraud Advisory Panel is now a well-respected charity and influential voice of the counter-fraud community.

It provides education and advice to business and the professions, collaborates with policymakers and stakeholders to influence the law and public policy, and commissions research to improve our understanding of the nature and extent of fraud. 

The Fraud Advisory Panel also supports new professionals in their career and skills progression as well as students looking to enter into a counter-fraud career. “There are many pathways into a counter-fraud career,” says Campbell. “We want to make sure that people are aware of these and by so doing make them more accessible, and to support new professionals as they grow and develop.”

COVID-19 Fraud Watch Updates: Interested members can sign up to receive updates by contacting the Fraud Advisory Panel at info@fraudadvisorypanel.org or visit the website here.