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Government urged to share 'suckers lists' to fight fraud

03/07/19

Michael Cross Correspondent

Intelligence about individuals featuring on ‘suckers lists’ compiled by fraudsters should be shared between trading standards departments, police forces and financial services businesses, a Westminster thinktank has proposed.

Thief stealing money from back pocket

It is one of a set of proposals by Demos and counter-fraud network Cifas for protecting people lacking mental capacity from online fraud. 

A report published this week, Protected by Design: new fraud protections for individuals at risk, claims that wariness about data protection law is preventing the sharing of information. The authors also call for big changes in the system for conferring powers of attorney, including a register of active attorneys to identify people abusing the system. 

According to the report, people with impaired mental capacity – for example caused by injury, mental health crisis or dementia – are increasingly being targeted by fraudsters. Fraud is also made easier by the financial services industry’s drive to provide frictionless transactions. 

One aspect of this is a trade in lists of promising targets. Demos recommends that, when police or trading standards departments discover such suckers lists they should share them, and collaboratively reach out to the people named to provide protection. At present, however, fears about data protection law is holding back such data sharing, the report states. 

Need for network

It recommends that police and financial services firms should establish an intelligence sharing network allowing information to be cascaded to banks and building societies to inform their own prevention tools and techniques.

Another area of concern is the “deeply flawed” process of granting powers of attorney, monitored by the Office of the Public Guardian. The report proposes new safeguards, including a register of active powers, updated in real time and open for inspection by financial services businesses.  

According to the study digital fraud is the fastest growing type of fraud against vulnerable people, with much of it committed by people abusing a position of trust. In 2017-18 the Office of the Public Guardian, which oversees power of attorney, received 5,245 safeguarding referrals and accepted 1,886 for further investigation. Abusive behaviours included gifting money to the attorney, hoarding and spending assets to avoid liability for care home fees. 

Authors Andrew Gload and Polly Mackenzie suggest that one problem is the “all or nothing” model of protection.

“Power of attorney is seen as a blanket operation, where the attorney takes over someone’s affairs once they lose capacity,” they say. “This is not in keeping with the reality of capacity, which is decision-specific, and often fluctuating.”

Home Office security minister Ben Wallace MP told an event marking the publication that he has asked officials to raise these issues with the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Office of the Public Guardian. 

 Image from iStock, Alistair Scott

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