Stop Scams UK, a cross industry group of banks, telecoms providers and technology companies is launching a trial to gather intelligence on scammers in an effort to tackle the most common type of crime in England and Wales.
Stop Scams UK aims to launch its pilot scheme next month. It comes after experts and companies warned that the government’s fraud strategy unveiled earlier this month was too weak to meet the scale of the challenge.
The UK trial will involve about 300 phone numbers and 100 email addresses operated by Stop Scams members, which include the UK’s four largest banks; challenger banks TSB, Starling and Monzo; telecoms providers BT and Three; and tech companies Meta, Google and Microsoft.
“We are aiming to engage with the scammers in a way that is undetectable to them, and then use the information obtained to shut down the tools they are using to scam people,” said one person involved with the project.
The initiative will be particularly useful in disrupting the flow of criminal proceeds via “money mules”, users who allow criminals to transfer ill-gotten money through their accounts to cover their financial tracks sometimes for a small fee.
Mules are more often caught than the fraudsters themselves, and banks are legally obliged to close their account and report them to the authorities.
The project comes as the UK faces an “epidemic of fraud”, which cost UK consumers £1.2 billion last year, according to financial services trade body UK Finance.
Although the 3.8 million reported fraud incidents in England and Wales in the year to December 2022 was a similar number to those recorded before Covid-19, according to the Office for National Statistics, it remains the most common crime, making up 41% of all reported cases.
“To us, fraud is a real plague in the UK,” said Oliver Prill, chief executive of Tide, warning that many crimes were the work of gangs rather than individuals. He said he also believed these crimes were “massively under-reported”.
A survey released by the Home Office earlier this month found that less than a third of businesses had registered their most recent fraud incident with the police.
“Stop Scams is leading the way in innovation in the fight against the scammers,” said Simon Miller, the group’s director of policy and communications. “We will understand how the scammers operate and get that intelligence to the right people.”
The government unveiled its long-awaited fraud strategy at the start of May. According to people with knowledge of the discussions, it was delayed in part by wrangling over proposals to force tech companies to pay compensation to online fraud victims.
These plans were eventually dropped and replaced with a voluntary “online fraud charter”, which ministers are set to agree with companies this summer.
The fraud strategy was met with disappointment from crime experts and businesses across different sectors, with calls for a stiffer approach to tech companies and telecoms providers, more policing resources and the creation of a single authority to deal with fraud.
The government is also planning to increase the role of the intelligence community in disrupting international fraud and to have more than 400 new specialists across police forces and the National Crime Agency by 2025.