A taskforce set up by ministers to coordinate work to tackle online fraud in the UK lacks the civil service support needed to make it a success, a report by the National Audit Office has found.
Analysing the work of the Home Office’s Joint Fraud Taskforce, auditors praised the department’s efforts to raise awareness of online fraud, reduce financial "card not present" fraud and to return money to fraud victims.
However, given the scale of the problem – with an estimated loss of £10bn to individuals from fraud in 2016 – the NAO said the department’s response to date was likely to be insufficient. The department has also faced a challenge in ensuring partners such as banks and law enforcement bodies to take on greater responsibility.
The report also highlighted that the taskforce, which is led by ministers, did not have high-level civil service officials assigned to it.
“Beyond the oversight provided by the taskforce’s management board and oversight board, chaired by the home secretary, there is a lack of proper governance, such as through a senior responsible owner or equivalent role,” it said.
In addition, the Home Office is yet to report on the group’s progress or set out how its performance will be measured.
The department has overall responsibility for preventing and reducing crime, including online fraud, but it relies on many other bodies to play a role. These include police forces, banks, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which shares information with police forces, and Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud.
Although the Home Office has made tackling online fraud a priority, the NAO found this is not the case across the public sector, with only 27 out of 41 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales referring to online fraud in their police and crime plan.
Auditor general Amyas Morse said this showed greater action was needed to ensure the public sector response matched the threat of online fraud, which had been overlooked by government, law enforcement and industry in the past.
“It is now the most commonly experienced crime in England and Wales and demands an urgent response,” he said.
“The launch of the Joint Fraud Taskforce in February 2016 was a positive step, but there is still much work to be done. At this stage it is hard to judge that the response to online fraud is proportionate, efficient or effective.”
Responding to the report, a Home Office spokesman acknowledged there was more to do to successfully prevent, disrupt and prosecute fraudsters.
"The Joint Fraud Taskforce is now working to develop a cross-industry strategic plan to specifically tackle fraud where a person's bank card is being fraudulently used online or over the phone,” he said. “We are also working together to identify what makes a person susceptible to falling victim to fraud in order to reduce an individual's vulnerability to this.”