Asset recovery specialist Alan Sheeley of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that authorities such as the National Crime Agency, City of London Police and other local police forces often do not have the resources to move quickly enough to seize criminal assets. This means criminals have more time to move assets out of their reach, meaning victims are less likely to receive compensation, he said.
“Budget cuts to key authorities is giving criminals more space to operate," said Sheeley. "Criminals are finding it easier to shift assets out of the reach of underfunded authorities and when they do, victims are unlikely to receive anything back. The falling value of assets seized by authorities is of real concern, especially as the number of reported fraud offences continues to rise.”
Sheeley said that victims of fraud should consider pursuing civil proceedings to recover their losses, rather than solely relying on law enforcement agencies.
“At present, law enforcement authorities are not able to prioritise the recovery of victims’ losses and many victims have to rely on lengthy criminal investigations for compensation which is often not forthcoming," he said. “Orders to freeze and seize criminal assets need to be obtained at the outset of an investigation if there is to be any real chance of recovering assets for victims on conviction. However, these orders are rarely imposed fast enough in criminal investigations.”
“Until significant improvement is made, victims should turn to the private civil courts. Here actions, at the victim's request and direction, can be made to block the money before it is spirited away.”
Figures obtained by Pinsent Masons show that the value of criminal assets seized in the UK in 2016/17 from to £206.7m in 2016/17, from £254.7m in 2015/16. Meanwhile according to KPMG's fraud barometer, fraudulent activity in the UK was worth £1.1bn in 2016, its highest level since 2011.
The number of fraud prosecutions fell 12% to 8,304 in 2016, down from 9,489 in 2015, according to the Ministry of Justice.