- By Dan Whitworth
- Money Box reporter, BBC Radio 4
The boss of a small business that had £1.6m stolen in a matter of minutes through fraud has strongly criticised the response from the authorities.
An employee at Steve Wright’s firm, Kent Brushes, was tricked into giving thieves access to the company account.
Mr Wright said the case had been handled “appallingly” by both his bank and Action Fraud.
It comes as a top law enforcement official calls for longer prison sentences for those convicted of fraud.
Adrian Searle, the director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said while the maximum sentence for fraud is currently 10 years, the average sentence is around two years and even in the most serious cases is still only four years.
“We support longer sentences for the frauds that are causing the highest harm,” he told the BBC.
“In particular we’re keen that the emotional impact of fraud is taken into consideration.”
In the year to March 2023 the Home Office recorded 1.25 million cases of fraud. Of those cases around 4% were investigated with just over 4,000 ending up in court.
‘My stomach dropped’
Mr Wright struggles to describe the moment he learned the money had gone from his business.
“I don’t think I can put into words how I felt,” he says.
The financial controller of his Hertfordshire-based company was targeted in a sophisticated authorised push payment (APP) scam in early July.
That is when victims are psychologically tricked and manipulated by criminals into transferring the money to the thieves themselves.
In this case, the victim was tricked into thinking the firm’s money was at risk before the criminals manipulated him to gain access to the company’s bank account.
The fraudsters then proceeded to steal £1.6m, via dozens of fraudulent transactions, in less than 20 minutes.
“My stomach dropped. My initial thought was, ‘this must be a mistake’. Surely the bank will be on hand to help us recover the money,” Mr Wright told BBC Radio 4’s Money Box.
“I felt for my financial controller who had fallen victim… and then very quickly went into… ‘how do we go about recovering these funds?'”
He contacted Hertfordshire Police, who told him he needed to report his crime to Action Fraud – the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime run by the City of London Police.
Most High Street banks are signed up to these, which oblige them to refund innocent victims of this type of fraud.
As such, three and a half months on from when the money was stolen, the business has not been refunded by the bank, there have been no arrests and there is no sign of any further investigation.
“It’s been handled appallingly. The response from the bank – they don’t care. The response from Action Fraud… well there hasn’t been one,” says Mr Wright.
“And if that’s how we’re treated, losing £1.6m, the many other victims in vulnerable positions I can only imagine how they must feel as well.
“It’s not right, this is a serious crime.”
Just one month after the money was stolen Action Fraud sent him a letter, which he describes as it saying “case closed”.
After our investigation Action Fraud admitted recording the details of the crime incorrectly, has apologised, and says it has put in place measures to ensure this does not happen again.
Mr Wright’s bank Barclays said it was “evident” the customer had been the victim of a sophisticated scam and that no bank would ever ask people to transfer money or share sensitive data like one-time passcodes.
“A great deal of fraud awareness and education information has been provided to Kent Brushes to help them protect themselves from scams, including this scam in particular,” the bank said.
“This case has been thoroughly investigated at the highest levels and our decision remains unchanged that the business customer will be held liable.”
It added that working with law enforcement was essential to stopping scams and catching fraudsters.
Commenting on Mr Wright’s case, Adrian Searle from the National Economic Crime Centre said: “What we recognise is that the policing response to fraud is not yet where it needs to be and there are a number of big changes we’re making to that response.
“One of those big changes is to Action Fraud itself and colleagues at the City of London Police, who own that system, are doing a big transformation programme to improve Action Fraud.”
In response to Mr Searle’s calls for longer prison sentences for people convicted of fraud, the Ministry of Justice said: “We sympathise with everyone who is a victim of fraud and perpetrators should face punishments which reflect the severity of their actions.
“Since 2010 the average custodial sentence lengths for fraud offences have more than doubled, keeping offenders off our streets for longer.”
How to prevent fraud
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It is OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you
- Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud
From Monday there will be a lot more stories about fraud – and how to protect yourself – right across BBC as part of our Be Scam Safe week. You can find out more at bbc.co.uk/bescamsafe
You can hear more on this story here on BBC Sounds.