Fraud is the UK's fastest-growing crime, with card theft the biggest single form of financial crime. One in every three people in the UK has been a victim of card fraud with £1.2m being stolen every day. So if this happens to you, what can you do?
Although in most cases, you should be compensated in full, there is growing evidence that some banks are increasingly refusing to refund all or part of monies lost, claiming that victims have not been careful enough with their cards, PIN numbers and other financial details.
If this happens to you, the first step is always to complain to financial institution concerned. If you get no joy here, there are two routes open to you: going to court or complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service (www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk). The latter service is free and straightforward – you shouldn't need a lawyer or claims company to represent you- and does not prevent you from taking the bank to court if you fail to convince the Ombudsman of your case.
If you do go to court, then amounts under £5000 can be heard at the Small Claims Court which is a less bureaucratic process and, unless you are being unreasonable, you cannot have the other side's costs awarded against you if you lose. Conversely, if you choose to use a solicitor, you can only claim between £50 and £80 of his or her fees against the other side if you win. If your loss is greater than £5000, or the judge decides that the case is too complex, then you will have to go through the full system. Legal advice in this situation is essential as losing a case can be very expensive indeed. It is worth checking your household insurance if you are considering starting a claim; some policies include legal expenses insurance.
One of the most worrying forms of fraud, which is currently undergoing a rapid rise, is identity theft, Where a fraudster steals or intercepts documents, such as bank statements, driving licences or passports, and uses them to pretend to be you, while running up credit card bills, making benefit claims and taking out loans in your name.
This can be particularly difficult to deal with, as you have to prove that it was not you that authorised the transaction. In these situations, you will need to contact the police as soon as you can and it's also advisable to contact CIFAS (the UK's Fraud Prevention Service), who offer a Protective Registration Service to guard against criminals using your name and address to get credit or other products in your name.
More generally, fraud should at least be easier to prosecute in future, thanks to a major updating of the law which includes new measures for modernising the law to equip investigators and prosecutors with the necessary tools to keep pace with the changing world of fraud, including new threats such as phishing and internet fraud, and the introduction of a a new general offence of fraud which should be easier to apply to the facts.
This may be good news for the victims of fraud, but less so if you find yourself accused of fraud, which is more common than you might think. Accusations of fraud arise after making an insurance claim or claiming benefits, for example, while, in addition to the police, fraud investigations can be carried out by the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs, the Financial Services Authority, the Department for Trade and Industry, the Office for Fair Trading, the Health and Safety Executive, Trading Standards and local authorities.
Innocent or otherwise, it always makes sense to contact a lawyer as quickly as possible. Much of the evidence used by the authorities is gathered from their initial interview with you, so advice on how to approach this is essential. Despite recent cutbacks, Legal Aid is often available for those without the means to fund their defence and the assistance of a solicitor or other qualified representative during any police station or Revenue and Customs interview is free of charge, whether you use the police's duty solicitor or your own.