We are a specialist law firm providing legal advice in cases of alleged business fraud and regulation and professional and healthcare regulation including criminal investigations. We have specialists offering representation in all types of professional misconduct cases including police misconduct.
We also advise in all types of residential conveyancing including more complex transactions such as newbuild and leasehold matters and rectifying defective titles.
We offer a bespoke service to our clients from experienced lawyers and our agile way of working gives us flexibility in the way we service our clients’ needs nationally and internationally at a competitive price.
Our team is dynamic and diverse and our mission is to deliver on the individuals needs of our diverse client base.
We look forward to hearing from you.
With the chancellor recently announcing increased parliamentary scrutiny of the FCA, a regulatory clampdown on financial services seems imminent. The looming question that businesses now face is where this regulation will land.
For some time, regulators have been slowly chipping away at the grey areas of the financial services market. These grey areas are occupied by intermediary companies that do not directly market speculative illiquid securities, but rather promote them to high-net-worth individuals and sophisticated investors. Regulation that applies to the actual sellers of these (usually high risk) securities don’t apply to these intermediary promotion companies. The majority of these companies make efforts to align themselves with regulation.
Unfortunately, there are of course a handful of companies that prioritise cashflow over proper due diligence, which has attracted the unwanted attention of the FCA. Indeed, the FCA have banned regulated intermediary companies from marketing high risk mini bonds to retail consumers. These rules blocked off a considerable income stream for the sector and pushed promotion into the unregulated sphere. In particular, SMEs in the sector suffered as a result.
Whilst few would argue against the need for more robust regulation in order to weed out foul players, the government’s approach seems to have neglected one critical factor; how will the introduction of these new rules affect the SMEs that make up the majority of this market?
There is good reason for SMEs acting in the sector to be concerned. Following the introduction of a ban on the marketing of mini-bonds to retail consumers, SMEs were suddenly forced to review the entire structure of their operations to ensure that they maintained compliance.
Unlike their larger counterparts, SMEs were faced with an insurmountable bill that pushed many close to (and some over) the edge. This has also included the additional costs of recruiting additional compliance personnel to ensure they remained in the regulators’ good graces.
If the government pushes ahead with the proposed regulations to the intermediary securities promotion market, there is a chance of a regulatory misfire that could prove fatal to the SMEs propping up the sector. The current approach appears a clumsy attempt to bring all relevant companies into line with sweeping changes to how these companies can legally operate; but this needs to be fine-tuned to ease the pressure off SMEs.
Focusing efforts elsewhere
Rather than further regulation and legislation, which is restrictive by nature, and has also been proven to be ineffective in clamping down on the bad apples operating in this sector, regulators should focus efforts on enforcement.
Resources would undoubtedly be better spent in bolstering regulators’ ability to enforce the existing rules at play. After all, the large companies, whose scandals has spurned on this ‘need for regulation’, have the resources at hand to navigate around any new regulations with relative ease.
Ultimately, SMEs need to prepare themselves for the regulatory changes on the horizon. By taking note early on and having a plan in place for the expected change in regulation, SMEs should be able to mitigate the cost of compliance and give themselves a fighting chance of survival.
Fraud is on a meteoric rise in the UK. With recent figures from the Government reporting a 24% rise in the past year, and consumer group Which? estimating that UK£9.3bn has been lost it’s obvious something needs to be done. If the old proverb “fraud and cunning are the weapons of the weak” is to be believed, then it would appear that fraudsters are resolving their weaknesses with a strength in numbers approach.
In a move to stem the relentless wave of fraud sweeping the nation, the Government has introduced a new Economic Crime Levy.  This Levy will apply to medium and large businesses that are subject to money laundering regulations and will seek to raise additional funding for the Government’s efforts to clamp down on serious fraud. However, under the proposed approach, these additional funds and resources would be largely misplaced.
As it stands, there is too great a focus on backend enforcement, whilst the bodies and agencies working on the front line of counter-fraud enforcement are being starved for resources and funding. For one example, this misstep is well demonstrated by the proposed plans to add additional accredited financial investigators to the ranks.
It is important to maintain high capacity for backend investigation, but this is not where priorities should currently lie, as financial investigators are typically only used once an investigation has begun or indeed once a case is finalised and confiscation proceedings are underway. There is limited value to increasing capacity here if the means to uncover and investigate cases are not up to scratch, which is currently the case. If anything, this approach could create a reverse bottleneck, with investigators idly waiting for a case to investigate.
Rather, resources and increased spending is urgently needed at the front-end operation in the counter-fraud effort. This is where regulators are struggling to keep up with the rising volume of fraud cases, as there simply isn’t the funding or manpower to effectively police fraudsters. The additional budget generated by the Levy would be more effectively spent on the bodies that seek out and prosecute cases of fraud and money laundering.
Whilst the Levy will be effective in raising some additional funds, it alone will likely not be enough to achieve the lofty ambitions that the Government has set out for it. Bodies responsible for cracking down on fraud, such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and National Crime Agency (NCA), are as much in need of wholesale structural change as they are additional resources. Funding is only half the battle, and without structural reform, we will only be left with a well-funded machine that still doesn’t function properly.
Happily, there is a good example for the SFO and NCA to follow, in the shape of the way Trading Standards operate. Trading Standards, as a separate local department in each Local Authority, is actively supported by regional teams and ultimately by National Trading Standards (NTS) as they seek to clamp down on fraud. This is done by providing additional support for ongoing investigations. Furthermore, they give local agencies the option to take investigations further up the chain to be progressed by the regional teams supported by NTS, which has proved a highly effective approach.
Adopting similar tactics would enable the SFO and NCA to continue overseeing investigations into the most serious fraud cases, while ensuring that smaller level cases can be dealt with at a local level. In theory, the current model is actually meant operate in this way, but in reality, most local authorities don’t investigate the frauds to begin with. If support at local level was enhanced, this structure would likely operate as intended and ultimately begin to plug the gaps that currently exist.
Furthermore, the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) in theory has the authority to task local police forces to address fraud. However, until they receive more resources in terms of on the ground investigating, the NECC will fail to properly use these powers. Funding should therefore be funnelled into bolstering the ranks of highly trained fraud investigators, who stand at the front line of fighting fraud, as opposed to accredited financial investigators, who are typically bought in at the confiscation stage.
However, whilst additional resources and structural reform are two crucial pieces of the puzzle, the NCA must also refresh its approach on how it decides the investigations that are worth launching and look to overhaul the Suspicious Activity Report (SARs) regime. At present, most frauds reported to the NCA, or the police are not investigated at all. In particular, those reported through SARs are too often not looked into, even if there is good reason for investigation included in the report. Ultimately, the value of the fraud is often deemed unworthy of following up, and it is usually only when there is substantial value that something will be pursued. Currently, frauds reported to the police are often dismissed as a civil dispute. This is simply not good enough and is perhaps the most essential change needed.
The NCA is also often ambivalent to the SARs that relate to seemingly low transactions, allowing an easy loophole for fraudsters to exploit. There needs to be greater support for businesses under the SAR regime, and funds redirected towards improving and streamlining the process.
Fortunately, SARs reform is already underway, which may make some progress in improving the systems of fraud reporting. If nothing else, the improved interface may streamline the process and provide better ease of use. However, the real issue with SARs lies at the sheer volume of rejections that occur and the lack of guidance and response for victims. For example, if something is not articulated in a particular way, the SAR is rejected, and the practitioner is left to their own devices in deciding whether or not they would have a defence.
The NCA currently sets an incredibly high bar for the SARs that regulated businesses must submit; as such, many of these reports are deemed insufficiently concerning to launch an investigation. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely we will see change here, as the law commission has previously ruled out any possible reform to defining suspicion. Practitioners, then, will likely continue to face the reality of being required to report suspicion at every level, with the likelihood that the fraud will be deemed unworthy of an investigation. This is where SARs really let fraud victims down, and where improvements and reforms must be made.
Furthermore, the current approach from the NCA makes it very hard to gain permission to progress with any SAR transactions that have already been rejected for investigation. The referrer is subject to a seven-day delay time, regardless of whether the SAR is actually investigated, wherein they are not legally permitted to notify their client of the reason for the interruption. This leaves businesses in a horrible, unsupported limbo where they open themselves up to potential prosecution if they accept the funds but are unable to notify clients as to why they haven’t been accepted.
With HM Revenue & Customs recently reporting that the taxpayer has been defrauded of up to UK£5bn through Covid relief schemes it has never been clearer that we are in dire need of effective action to combat fraud. This change needs to start from within the regulatory and enforcement bodies, and must take the form of better resource management, structural reform, and refreshed parameters on when to launch investigations.
The fraudsters’ weapons may be weak, but they are finding the chinks in the authorities’ armour. Until law enforcement and regulators change suit, we can expect fraud to continue growing in strength and numbers, and at the expense of the law-abiding public.
This article was first published in Fraud Intelligence http://www.counter-fraud.com.
By Rachel Adamson | The Times
“There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.”
So runs the famous proverb — a favourite of Stephen Harper, the former Canadian prime minister. And such words seem doubly apposite when it comes to the UK government’s latest efforts to tackle fraud.
Faced with a record growth in fraud, to the point where 12 people become fresh victims every half an hour, ministers have unveiled an economic crime levy with a view to funding government action to tackle money laundering and ambitious counter-fraud measures.
Unfortunately, no matter the promise to get tough on fraud, these measures fall short. Rather than turn the tide, the government is arguably fiddling whilst pockets are picked.
Put simply, the government’s attention and energy is misplaced. Funding should not only be going towards backend enforcement, typified by the plans to increase the number of accredited financial investigators. Resources are needed at the coal face and money would be better spent on the investigation and prosecution of fraud and money laundering itself.
What resource-starved agencies — such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or National Crime Agency (NCA) — urgently need is not just more money, but structural change. Here, the Trading Standards Authority, which empowers local agencies to support their investigations whilst providing the option to escalate to the national body, provides a blueprint. Such a model would allow the SFO to continue to deal with the most serious cases, whilst ensuring other reports do not fall through the cracks.
But even here, these structural changes will mean nothing unless the NCA redefines its stance on what level of transaction is worth pursuing. This change is essential.
All too often, the suspicious activity reports that regulated businesses are obliged to complete are not considered of sufficient concern. This leaves practitioners, who have already gone through an incredibly onerous reportage process, in the lurch.
The NCA makes it extremely difficult to obtain permission to continue with a suspicious transaction they have rejected for investigation, and the referrer is left with at least a seven-day wait where they cannot inform the client of the reason for delay.
We need action on fraud, that much is clear. And though money will certainly grease the wheels of justice, it is also clear we need to reform the suspicious activity report regime alongside the creation of a regional, properly resourced SFO.
The Home Office is developing a fraud action plan, but we cannot afford a protracted wait for action. Otherwise, the promise to tackle fraud may, indeed, be the greatest fraud of all.
Rachel Adamson is the head of fraud at Adkirk Law, a firm in Preston