Government Counter Fraud Awards: Banking protocol brings together forces against fraud

By:
29 Nov 18

The Government Counter Fraud Awards 2019 are now extended until 7 December. CIPFA takes another look back at some of the previous winners, including the winners of the 2017 Outstanding Collaboration Award.

“Collaboration is never going to be perfect, but it’s always worthwhile”, says Christine Farrow, economic crime manager at UK Finance, the trade association for the banking and finance industry.

She can be considered an expert in the subject, having coordinated the set-up of the Banking Protocol, a now nationwide initiative between financial institutions, police and trading standards.

An opportunity to affect change

The Protocol came about after a rise in the number of elderly people being successfully targeted by rogue traders in east London. To tackle the issue, local Trading Standards Officers introduced schemes to identify, protect and support customers who visited their local bank branch and could be potential fraud victims.

Involving local police, Trading Standards and financial institutions, these schemes did have some success but they lacked senior support from financial institutions due to their local nature and slightly differing approaches to tackling fraud.

Farrow recognised the potential of these schemes and set about trying to get the approach adopted in a clear and consistent manner across the country but as she describes, there were challenges: “The Metropolitan Police had considered expanding one of the schemes, the Havering project, right across London, but had difficulties in guaranteeing an immediate response to a 999 call to respond to a branch’s call. This meant banks were hesitant to get on board, as they felt retaining a vulnerable customer in branch without a response could only lead to unnecessary distress,” she says.

Senior police support was obviously going to be essential so Farrow approached DCI Andrew Gould who had just joined the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Falcon fraud unit. He championed the idea and successfully obtained the relevant support from senior officers in 2016 while Farrow focused on the National Trading Standards Scams Team.

Richard Strawson, from the Scams Team was brought into the project and he ensured the skills offered by Trading Standards officers, specifically in relation to tackling rogue traders, were considered in the planning and implementation of the initiative. When DS Keith Batehup and DC Natalie Cabot from the Metropolitan Police then came on board, a formidable team was formed and an initial pilot of the Banking Protocol was run across London. It was a huge success.

Highlights from the pilot included a high quality training DVD which was used as the foundation for training for all banks, building societies and post offices, the securing of support from UK Finance members, the Information Commissioners Office, as well as helping Police and Trading Standards Officers adopt new processes to put the Protocol into action.

“We prevented £1.3m in financial harm and made 19 arrests in the first three months, which included rogue trading, romance scams, investment scams, courier fraud and elder abuse,” says Farrow.

Overcoming challenges

Engaging with multiple organisations and agencies naturally presented a number of issues, which were addressed through a combination of tactics:

 

  • an initial lack of support from senior police officers across the country was resolved when the project leads secured the distribution of a letter from City of London Police (the lead force on fraud) to all police authorities in support of the initiative;
  • response times in rural areas were tackled through the use of Trading Standards and the management of expectations with branches in hard to reach locations;
  • security concerns in Northern Ireland involved meetings to ensure close collaboration between branches and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to share knowledge of any particular concerns;
  • conflicting demands on resource were overcome by collating and disseminating key successes, including reviews of time commitments by forces.

 

An open door to communication

Managing relationships across the various teams was challenging but the project leads arranged face-to-face meetings with each force and local Trading Standards teams and provided ongoing support and communication to ensure local arrangements were strong.

“Understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses was so important to creating the right environment,” explains Gary Miles from the Metropolitan Police. He said, “Very often in teams and co-working situations people will critique rather than listen, understand and educate. For the Protocol to work it was vital to encourage open dialogue, so that instructions and the toolkit could then be easily amended to suit individual circumstances.”

Strawson adds, “The wider benefit to adopting an open approach to communication was the knock-on effect. Cross-party conversations about fraud types and prevention, plus information sharing is now the norm. Today we talk openly about broader issues. This has made a significant difference to tackling fraud at a local level as bank managers, for example, feel confident and supported with contacting the police when they spot early signs of fraudulent behaviour.”

Pathway to success

The lessons learned from the London pilot put Farrow and Strawson in a good position to roll out the Banking Protocol to other police and Trading Standards teams to make fraud a priority area. Financial organisations too were being compelled to get on board, with 48 committed to participating in the protocol by May 2017.

Through their tireless efforts Farrow and Strawson succeeded in strengthening the relationship between local police forces, Trading Standards teams and financial organisations, with the team going on to win the Outstanding Collaboration award at the Government Counter Fraud Awards in 2017, which provided “a boost when we needed a boost,” says Farrow.

Recently the Banking Protocol has been hailed as a ground-breaking rapid response scheme. It has last been reported as leading to 336 arrests and preventing almost £37m of attempted fraud. The entire UK now has it in place, with all 45 police forces using the process since March 2018.

Know someone performing outstanding work in counter fraud? Nominate them for a Government Counter Fraud Award now, before entries close on 7 December 2018.

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