Action Fraud staff sneer at ‘moron’ victims and nap on the jobhttps://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/acti ... -28mm27pps
Paul Morgan-Bentley, Head of Investigations
August 14 2019, 5:00pm,
It is a Friday afternoon and staff working for the police are taking crime reports from victims of fraud.
Some of the callers are inconsolable, having lost their life savings to scammers and cold callers. Others are panicking after discovering that their bank accounts have been hacked into and emptied, or that a fraudster has applied for a credit card using their details.
To my left, a young call handler in scuffed jeans and a zip-up hoodie has his head in his hands and his eyes shut, apparently napping during one of his calls.
Undercover at Action Fraud
He sits up and says a few words through his headset before taking out his mobile phone and scrolling through personal messages as the victim continues telling him about how they were targeted by criminals.
This is a common scene at Action Fraud, where I was hired this summer as one of 140 call handlers who take all of the UK’s fraud crime reports, as many as 50,000 per month.
While other crimes are reported to local police forces, fraud is treated differently and all reports nationally are taken by staff at this one call centre.
This service, known as Action Fraud, is overseen by City of London Police which specialises in fraud investigations. However, four years ago the force outsourced the service and phone reports are now taken by low-wage staff at Concentrix, a private company, based at a call centre in Gourock, an hour’s drive west of Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde.
As online scams soar, fraud now makes up more than a third of crimes. However, as few as one in 50 reports leads to a suspect being caught and victims repeatedly say that their cases are abandoned with no explanation. How could the police be getting it so wrong?
Although police claim to perform thorough vetting on Action Fraud staff, I applied for a job using my real name and was hired to start within weeks.
Michael Rodgers, the City of London Police training manager, quickly made his views clear to the new recruits on how well the police deals with fraud reports and explained that when victims report crimes they do not realise their cases are very unlikely to lead to meaningful action.
“When it comes to the police you’ll find they do absolutely everything in their power to avoid doing work. They’re the most useless bunch of people,” he declared. “When it comes to fraud, they will literally hand people over a leaflet and say contact Action Fraud, knowing that all that we can do for people is take a report and we can’t do anything else.”
Mr Rodgers explained that call handlers have to decide whether victims’ cases should be dealt with as crimes or filed as less serious “information reports”, which are almost never looked at again.
For instance, he said that if a victim says someone has fraudulently taken out a bank loan in their name this should be only an information report as it is the bank, not the caller, that has lost the money. About half of more than 500,000 calls to Action Fraud every year are dismissed as “information reports”. We were instructed by Mr Rodgers never to tell victims about this system to screen out many of their cases.
“Could you imagine sitting there on the phone and going, sorry, I know that you’ve been passed on to me for a crime reference number but I cannot give you that, I can only give you a report for an information report. And then you say because it’s an information report nothing’s going to happen with it,” he said.
As training progressed, it emerged that even crime reports are often never looked at again. A computer scoring system analyses the reports and only those most likely to lead to a suspect being caught are sent on to a team of 27 investigators at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, also known as the NFIB.
To have a good chance of their cases being reviewed, victims need to provide detailed information about the fraudsters, such as their real names and bank account details. About a third of cases reviewed by the NFIB are then forwarded to police forces. Last year, only 10,473 of the cases in England and Wales led to a fraudster being caught, about 2 per cent of the number of reports dealt with by Action Fraud across the UK. This system of screening out all but the easiest-to-solve cases is also hidden from victims. “Never disclose there’s a scoring system,” Mr Rodgers said.
The huge number of cases that are filed as information reports or dismissed by the computer algorithm are kept in an NFIB database called Know Fraud. They are looked at again only if details match those in new cases that are reviewed and run through the system.
Staff turnover at Action Fraud is high and those who have been hired include teenagers, some as young as 16. Employees ridiculed victims and took little interest in their cases while on calls. They took calls while texting, checking social media and play-fighting with colleagues.
“I fall asleep, honestly,” said one, who has worked there for a year. “I’ll close my eyes and then they’ll still say the same thing again. It’s so repetitive sometimes. It’s either going to be a BT scam from abroad, a law enforcement phone call or HMRC — and you already know how it’s going to turn out.”
One of the managers at Action Fraud is Ross Docherty. In May 2018 he wrote on Twitter that he was “stuck in work dealing with morons until 8”. He has also boasted of being “drunk” during a shift and tweeted: “f*ck fraud. Stop calling us and let me go home early.” Other managers referred to callers as “screwballs” and “psychos”.
Ross Docherty, one of the managers, wrote on Twitter that he was “stuck in work dealing with morons until 8”
Mr Rodgers said he would lie to callers to defend his staff. “If somebody’s giving you a hard time on the phone, ‘I want to speak to your manager blah blah blah blah blah’, then I’m like, game, I’ll take it,” he said. “I just don’t take any shite off of people. So even if yous are wrong I’ll still defend yous to the death and say that yous are right and then secretly fix whatever the issue it is for the person without telling them and then go, nah, they’ve done it all right for yous.”
Recruits were told that they must never tell callers that they had been hired by Concentrix rather than the police. Asked what call handlers should do if a victim assumes that they are talking to a police officer, Mr Rodgers said, “You just let them”, adding: “I wouldn’t advise saying anything like, ‘I’m not a police officer, I can’t do this and I can’t do that’. Because then they’re going to go, ‘Well, why am I phoning you?’. ”
To work as a call handler for Action Fraud, recruits have to pass a week of class-based training on frauds and a week of practical training on the work systems and call quality. They start taking supervised live calls as early as the end of the second week.
The training material on different types of frauds and which should be classified as crimes is written by the Home Office and staff have to pass an “Action Fraud sign off” test at the end of their first week of training. Mr Rodgers missed out chunks of the material, saying that he was simplifying it “to the most basic level”. Before the test, he fed new recruits the answers that were going to come up. A lot of the relevant information was also printed on posters stuck to a wall in the test room.
“It’s closed book, right, but technically that’s not a book, that’s a wall,” he said before the test. “So if any point you ever want to stretch your legs or go for a walk around then read the wall.” Staff, who earn £8.50 per hour — just over the £8.21 minimum wage for workers aged 25 and over — can take the test repeatedly until they pass.
Mr Rodgers was asked by one of the other recruits whether it would not be better for police forces to be trained to record frauds rather than outsourcing the service. “Probably,” he replied. “[But] that would be really bad for us.”
City of London Police said “each and every report has a value to Action Fraud” and that cases filed as information reports “might go towards building a pattern of criminality that ultimately leads to perpetrators being prosecuted”. It said the number of fraud reports was growing and that computer technology helped to focus resources on cases with investigative opportunities and those that posed the greatest threat to victims.
It said it did not ask call handlers to suggest they were police officers and that it was disappointed with the allegations of inadequate training. It said training had been “significantly updated” in recent weeks.
A spokeswoman said: “Any mocking of victims is completely unacceptable. We are horrified and saddened to hear reports that victims are treated disrespectfully when they report to Action Fraud. We have asked Concentrix to address this with urgency.”
Concentrix said it is investigating the findings, had suspended four staff members and was taking the allegations “extremely seriously”. It said that mocking victims and ignoring them while on calls was not tolerated, that its staff are meant to follow the training set by the Home Office and that this was recently changed extensively. It said it would never support staff sharing misleading information and that it was not its policy to make callers believe they were speaking to police officers.
A spokesman said: “A number of alleged isolated incidents have been raised which are not a representation of the operating culture of our organisation. If we find an issue exists, we will take all appropriate actions to correct it immediately.”
Concentrix did not provide responses on behalf of Mr Rodgers, Mr Docherty or Paul Craig, who was filmed scrolling on his phone, napping and play-fighting during calls.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “This government is determined to crack down on fraudsters and it is vital that victims have the confidence to come forward and know that their case will be dealt with properly. We understand immediate disciplinary action has been taken following the Times investigation.”