New Clause 6 - National strategy on financial fraud

Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 3 November 2022.

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“(1) The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons a national strategy for the purpose of detecting, preventing and investigating fraud and associated financial crime within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) In preparing the strategy, the Treasury must consult—

(a) the Secretary of State for the Home Office,

(b) the National Economic Crime Centre,

(c) law enforcement bodies which the Treasury considers relevant to the strategy,

(d) relevant regulators,

(e) financial services stakeholders,

(f) digital platforms, telecommunications companies, financial technology companies, and social media companies.

(3) The strategy must include arrangements for a data-sharing agreement involving—

(a) relevant law enforcement agencies,

(b) relevant regulators,

(c) financial services stakeholders,

(d) telecommunications stakeholders, and

(e) technology-based communication platforms,

for the purposes of detecting, preventing and investigating fraud and associated financial crime and, in particular, tracking stolen money which may pass through mule bank accounts or platforms operated by other financial services stakeholders.

(4) In this section ‘fraud and associated financial crime’ includes, but is not limited to authorised push payment fraud, unauthorised facility takeover fraud, and online and offline identity fraud.

(5) In this section, ‘financial services stakeholders’ includes banks, building societies, credit unions, investment firms, Electric Money Institutions, virtual asset providers and exchanges, and payment system operators.”—

This new clause would require the Treasury to publish a national strategy for the detection, prevention and investigation of fraud and associated financial crime, after having consulted relevant stakeholders. The strategy must include arrangements for a data sharing agreement between law enforcement agencies, regulators and others to track stolen money.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We fully support the provisions in the Bill that enhance the protection for victims of authorised push payment scams, but we feel that an opportunity has been wasted to do something on fraud prevention. UK Finance, the financial services trade body, recently published data that revealed that the amount of money stolen directly from hard-working families and businesses’ bank accounts through fraud and scams hit a record high of £1.3 billion in 2021. That is bad enough at the best of times, but even worse during a cost of living crisis. We need to get to grips with new types of fraud such as identity theft and online scams, which have seen criminals get rich at the public’s expense, with people’s life savings stolen and their economic security put at risk.

The current approach to fraud will always leave law enforcement agencies one step behind the criminals, who are exploiting new financial technologies and bank accounts to steal and hide the public’s money. The Opposition want to see enforcement agencies given the powers that they need to crack down on digitally savvy criminals, and to track stolen money through payment system operators, electronic money institutions and cryptoasset firms. If the Government are serious about tackling fraud, they will support our new clause to allow regulators and enforcement agencies to pursue criminals and bring them to justice wherever they hide their stolen money, and to protect people’s financial security.

New clause 6 would put in place a single, dedicated national strategy to tackle fraud. It would deliver a co-ordinated, interagency response across the Treasury, the Home Office, the National Economic Crime Centre, law enforcement agencies, the major banks and wider partners in financial services, telecommunications and social media centres. It would put in place a data-sharing agreement to help investigators and the sector prevent fraud and track stolen money. That agreement would extend beyond the banks to include social media companies, fintechs, payment system operators and other platforms that are exploited by tech savvy criminals. That is important, because for too long, tackling fraud has been solely the banks’ responsibility. That approach is completely outdated.

Mike Haley, the chief executive of CIFAS, said in evidence to the Committee:

“Provisions that facilitate greater data and intelligence sharing, particularly on suspicions of fraud and financial crime, would have the biggest impact in helping to prevent this type of crime. It is a crime that is at scale and at speed in the online environment. To be able to share the mobile numbers that are being used, the devices and the IP addresses at speed across the whole of the environment—payment providers, fintechs and telcos—would be enormously powerful. This is a volume crime, and we need to have prevention at the core of any national strategy. That would have a massive positive impact.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 68, Q129.]

The new clause would facilitate that sharing. Does the Minister agree with Mike Haley? If so, will he commit the Government to introducing a fraud strategy with data sharing at its heart?

I am sure, because I have heard the Minister speak so many times in this Committee, that he will tell us to be patient; he will say that change is coming. However, the millions of people who have fallen—or will fall—victim to fraud cannot afford to be patient any more. We cannot drag our feet over this. Scams will continue to rise, and countless more lives will be destroyed or lost. We need to make sure that the outdated way of tackling fraud is challenged once and for all. I ask the Minister to support the new clause.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

It is a pleasure to talk about this extremely important issue. The Treasury Committee produced a long and detailed report on this issue, with a series of recommendations. I hope that the Government will work cross-departmentally to put those into effect. Data sharing certainly featured in our views in that inquiry.

It is hard to contemplate the size of the explosion in fraud, how little of it is captured, and how few of the perpetrators are brought to justice. That is partly because of the massive number of chances for fraudulent activity to be perpetrated, which have come with changes in access to banking and digital capacity. They range from push frauds, fraudulent emptying of bank accounts and credit card cloning, all the way through to the text messages that we all get regularly on our phones.

The text messages tell us, for example, that we have recently been near someone who has covid—the message is purportedly from the NHS—and we need to give them our banking details so we can pay £1.75 for access to a PCR test. We have all seen them. I am getting a load now on energy support—probably everyone is getting them—which say that the Government’s support for energy bills has to be applied for and that we have to give these people our banking details. These are very plausible texts, which many people fall for. There are phone calls as well, purportedly from the bank, and emails too. This is a sophisticated level of fraud that is psychologically very well organised.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

One message worth highlighting that I received was, “Hi mum, I’ve lost my phone. Please send some money to this number.” I rang both my daughters to ask, “Is this from one of you?”. They both said it was not. This “Hi mum” one that is going round at the moment has caught many people out. These messages play on emotions and can make people deeply concerned when they receive them.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

It makes people deeply concerned and it makes them do things that they obviously live to regret in the fullness of time.

Increasingly, there are also phone calls from fraudsters pretending that they are the fraud police and that the person’s bank account has been accessed for fraudulent purposes. It is very difficult to keep up with the level of activity on our phones—we are being bombarded every day—and that is without considering the scamming that the FCA is fighting, day in, day out, on products offered online, such as pensions, insurance and investment products, all of which regularly lie beyond the regulatory border, but can lead to massive amounts of financial loss if they are believed. It is also without considering the areas where younger people tend to get their financial advice, such as TikTok and other places, where we probably—it has to be said, Mr Sharma—do not spend that much of our time.

The windows for getting to people with these kinds of fraudulent intents and sophisticated frauds widen constantly. The capacity to deal with them does not widen as regularly and, by definition, legislation is much slower than the innovation of these people.

We have asked the authorities that are tasked with fighting fraud what they are doing about it. The Treasury Committee has taken evidence on the topic, and we were struck by how fragmented those fighting fraud are across Departments and by how process-related, rather than output-related, the evidence from the authorities was. They said things like, “We have 150 different things that we are meant to do by 2023, and we have done 91% of them,” but fraud is still massively increasing all the time.

We need a system—a national fraud strategy—that looks at the output of fraud, rather than the processes or tick boxes by which the different anti-fraud authorities, which are fragmented all the way through, justify what they are doing. In reality, even if there is lots of work going on, the outcome is not nearly what we would want to see. Levels of fraud are rising significantly, affecting more and more people, and there are fewer and fewer successes in dealing with it.

It ranges from very sophisticated money laundering kinds of fraud—we are not talking about money laundering here, but we could talk about it for a very long time, and about the way banking structures seem to facilitate it—to lower levels of fraud. There is fraud that is perpetrated from outside our country’s boundaries and there is sophisticated money laundering activity. We are talking about frauds that are ruining the lives of the many constituents who fall victim to them. Many people do not get compensation when they have been conned into sharing their bank details and have had their bank accounts emptied or their credit cards cloned, because they have had a hand in it in some way. I know that the authorities work closely with the banks to create circumstances in which compensation can be given when there is no fault, but there are big blurred lines.

New clause 6, which would provide a national fraud strategy, is not the whole answer, but it would take us some steps along the way to creating better outcomes for all our constituents. Importantly, there ought to be mandatory data sharing across these areas so that money can be followed and stopped, and so that the banking system is not used to spirit away money that has been taken fraudulently. We know that that can happen rapidly and that transactions can quickly take the money where it cannot be found. To better fight fraud, it is important that banks’ sophisticated behind-the-scenes capacity be put to use in a more systemic way rather than in just a company way.

I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this. I certainly hope that he will read the Select Committee’s report and that, as he spends more time in his role, he will consider how his duties impinge on the systemic structure of this problem, as well as what he and his anti-fraud counterparts in other Departments can do. If the Minister reads their oral evidence to the Select Committee, he will find that they were very frustrated by how ineffective what they had managed to do had proven to be. We hope that this Minister will get to the stage of bearing down on this problem and turning the tide of fraud that is engulfing our entire system and having a detrimental effect on our constituents.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader) 12:45, 3 November 2022

If the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn presses the new clause to a vote, I will certainly support it. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on blockchain.

To build on what the hon. Member for Wallasey said, in subsections (2)(f) and (3)(d) and (e), we have a huge opportunity to help the Government by ensuring that there is a strategic overview of how fraud impacts on the technology sector. The problem is not necessarily the technology but the people utilising it. Distributed ledger-type technologies, for example, are used to access investments and assets, but those who are supposedly selling assets are taking advantage of technology that a lot of younger people use.

Critically, I hope that the Government hear the concern that there might be no strategic overview of how such technology can be manipulated. The tech is fine, but we must consider that manipulation—particularly of closed distributed ledger technologies and closed blockchains—and how it can block out the people who actually buy into those systems. I hope that the Government hear what has been said on the new clause.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I support the new clause. I refer the Minister to the evidence given by Mike Haley, the chief executive of CIFAS. In respect of fraud, he said:

“Absolutely, there should be a national strategy, and prevention should be at its core.”

He said that the Home Office was looking at

“publishing a national strategy; it has been much delayed and it is very much anticipated.”

One reason for including a national strategy in the Bill is the need for that strategy to be introduced as quickly as possible.

Mike Haley also said that he would like that strategy to be

“more ambitious, and to cover the public and private sectors, as well as law enforcement.”

He made the very good point that

“fraudsters do not decide one day, ‘We only go after bounce back loans because that is a public sector fraud.’ They will go after a loan from the NatWest bank, or a mortgage.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 68, Q130.]

He highlighted the inability to share information and said that some people might say that GDPR was preventing them from sharing information. He went on to say:

“It is a crime that is at scale and at speed in the online environment. To be able to share the mobile numbers that are being used, the devices and the IP addresses at speed across the whole of the environment—payment providers, fintechs and telecos—would be enormously powerful. This is a volume crime, and we need to have prevention at the core of any national strategy. That would have a massive positive impact. ”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 38, Q129.]

Our witnesses called for a national strategy that looks at crime seriously and that is more ambitious than that suggested by the Home Office and broader in scope. Although many of the frauds relate to small amounts, they are numerous and they cause people significant harm. When the Minister responds, I would like him to recall that oral evidence and the reason why our new clause calls for a national strategy.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will be brief. The Government are committed to tackling fraud, and we recognise that it goes far wider than financial services. There absolutely should be a national strategy, and there will be.

The Government recognise that tackling fraud requires a unified and co-ordinated response from Government, law enforcement and the private sector better to protect the public and businesses from fraud, reduce the impact on victims, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters. That is why the Government, led by the Home Office, which is the right body to be the lead, but with full Treasury input, will publish a new broad-based strategy to address the threat of fraud. I hope the Opposition will welcome that. The Government intend to publish it later this year.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Indeed.

The Government will work with industry to remove the vulnerabilities that fraudsters exploit, we will work with intelligence agencies to shut down fraudulent infrastructure, and we will work with law enforcement to identify the most harmful offenders and bring them to justice. We will also ensure, with all partners, that the public have the advice and support they need. That should reassure the Committee that a clear strategy to tackle fraud will be forthcoming and that the new clause is unnecessary.

I note the Opposition’s concerns about data sharing, which are specifically referenced in the new clause. I reassure them that the Payment Systems Regulator has work under way with industry participants to enhance data sharing to prevent fraud. The PSR’s managing director, Chris Hemsley, did not raise any legislative barriers to data sharing for that purpose when he gave evidence to the Committee recently.

I will rise to the challenge put down by the hon. Member for Wallasey to turn the tide on fraud, because we all must acknowledge that it is a critical policing issue in this day and age. In that spirit, I hope that she will join us to ensure that her colleagues reverse their opposition to the Public Order Bill, which is tying up hundreds of thousands of police hours that could usefully be spent prosecuting the challenge of fraud. I also hope that she supports our initiative to cut red tape in policing and to end woke policing, so that we no longer arrest people for Twitter posts, we do not send the police off to dance the Macarena at carnivals or Pride events, and they no longer take the knee. If the hon. Lady is as serious as we are about tackling fraud, she has to acknowledge that there is a need to think about how we allocate our resources.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

After what I thought was quite a consensual debate, it is slightly unworthy of the Minister to resort to those comments in the week when there has been an inspectorate report about the misogyny, behaviour and culture of a lot of the police force. That needs to be reformed so that all members of our communities, whatever their age, gender or ethnicity, can trust the police; we all want to see that.

Will the Minister admit that so-called woke policing is not an issue in fraud? The issue is fragmentation. Woke policing was not raised during the great number of Treasury Committee evidence sessions about the fraud, so it was unworthy of him to make those points at the end of his speech. We need a system that is not fragmentated and that is focused relentlessly on output, and where there is cross-departmental working and proper funding, as well as data sharing, so that we can crack down on something that all of us want to see driven out of our system.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I would never want to be unworthy in the hon. Lady’s eyes, so I am distressed that my offer to build consensus about how the police could best deploy their resources has, at this first stage, been rebuffed.

I ask the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The Minister was doing so well and I was hoping we could go through this sitting without hearing the Conservatives say the word “woke” once, but unluckily that has now been crossed off my bingo sheet.

I will press the new clause to a vote, because I want to hold the Minister to account and ensure he does not push this commitment too far down the road, and because every person in the sector I have spoken to has stressed the importance of legislative change when it comes to data sharing.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 7 Financial Services and Markets Bill — New Clause 6 - National strategy on financial fraud

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Joy Morrissey.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.