EMPAC Fellow research on Fraud Prevention

EMPAC Fellow Sgt Caroline Broughton, of Lincolnshire Police, has carried out new practitioner-research on  fraud prevention. Read all about her experience as a Fellow and her research.

There are a number of practitioner-researcher EMPAC Fellows, and we will be publishing findings of their research over the coming weeks. This time we feature Sergeant Caroline Broughton, of Lincolnshire Police. Caroline undertook a PostGraduate Certifcate at Nottingham Trent University, supervised by Dr Becky Thompson.

Caroline explains what she got out of being an EMPAC Fellow. “When I first heard about the Fellows Research I had many questions, academically it had been many years since I had studied, would I be good enough, was my area of interest around Fraud of interest to others, what use would it be when I had finished,  but with retirement imminent I thought it would be good to asses the work we had been doing around Fraud Prevention and leave some guidance around best practice and safeguarding vulnerable victims of fraud.  For me that was the key to undertaking the work, proving ‘what works’ and also recognising the excellent work undertaken by a range of partners for Operation REVIVE. I haven’t regretted the decision even when panic sets in about approaching deadlines and I would urge anyone who has a chance to  undertake it. There is as much support as you need and with the Nottingham Trent course the combination of lectures and coursework laid the foundation to understanding evidence based policing  before undertaking a small research project.  Working in the prevention department  I see the value of EBP as for many years we have wasted time and resources on doing something just because we have always done it, and never evaluated it- this is  a chance to make a difference and ensure that we undertake effective practice and have initiatives in place that actually work and a make a difference to others. It sounds rather  clichéd but 30 years ago that’s what I actually joined for.”

EMPAC is really pleased Caroline enjoyed her experience so much and we would encourage other policing professionals out there to have a go as well. Just get in touch with us if you’re interested and want to have a chat!

Caroline works in the Prevention Unit at Force HQ and was interested in evaluating fraud prevention work across the county to ensure a consistency of approach. She wanted to ensure Lincolnshire Police were using techniques and methods which are actually shown to have a benefit in decreasing the level of engagement by a victim. There was also an ongoing need to understand the extent of the problem to ensure appropriate resources and strategies were in place to optimise the safeguarding of vulnerable victims of crime.  Given an ongoing issue of underreporting there is arguably not a true picture of the extent of fraud, and with an aging demographic in the county, policing was keen to understand as much as possible about what works in fraud prevention to deliver a targeted approach.

Recent returns from Lincolnshire Trading Standards (2017) estimate that from 500 visits, £2.2 million had been lost by those victims engaging in mass marketing fraud prior to joint agency interventions, where the police work with partners such as Trading Standards, which resulted in an estimated £700,000 less fraud. The average loss to a victim was estimated at £8,000 which is slightly higher, but consistent with findings that suggested the average UK victim of fraud lost £6,744 (RAND, 2016).

The study was deliberately small – Caroline, as a practitioner researcher, has a busy day job (!) and was needing to balance the research enquiry within a particular time scale due to work priorities. Yet, useful common themes around prevention still emerged.

The practicalities of research – around your time and resources – is an important point to make here. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, sometimes it’s years, but sometimes it’s much less. Don’t be put off that you can’t carry out any research because you haven’t got years available and a team of assistants sat at the ready! The key thing is to try and work out the core research question, and be careful over your approach, staying aware of any limitations so you don’t ‘over claim’ any findings. So, ‘encouragement message’ passed, let’s get back to Caroline’s work!

The key thing for Caroline’s enquiry was to capture the experiences of professionals working with vulnerable victims of fraud, any initiatives undertaken which had positive outcomes and identifying those which hadn’t worked as effectively ensuring that only interventions and initiatives are used in the future which decrease the likelihood of a victim further engaging and improve safeguarding around vulnerable victims.

This work was also about partnerships and about recognising how to best work together as agencies and identifying best practice for those professionals working with vulnerable victims as part of their various roles to build on what works best. The whole process of research also helps inform what else, if anything, is required in the future to improve safeguarding.

Five main themes

Overall, five main themes emerged from the interviews to inform professional practice in fraud prevention.

  1. The need to initially understand the person and their situation to inform any prevention initiatives

Participants in this research felt that any intervention has initially to identify the cause to properly inform any preventative measures being considered. In order to better understand an individual and their background, a number of participants emphasised the importance of relationship building.

“We need to know as much as possible to be able to do the best job possible in prevention… trying to think that you can fix someone in an instant, I’ve learnt you can’t do that”

  1. A number of (seemingly) effective prevention measures already exist which can be implemented quickly at the beginning of an intervention

The participants in this research highlighted several different methods which they believed assisted victims in the early stages of an intervention to avoid becoming a repeat victim. These included: Scam mail boxes – used to begin education with a victim to identify scam mail, especially with the use of seized scam mail to show victims similar (if not the same) mail shot. Removal of products as soon as practicable, as often the extent of the accumulation of these products was found to be detrimental to the wellbeing of the victim.   Call Blockers, with 39% of the frauds reported to Lincolnshire Police being telephone enabled, this is an essential part of a prevention plan.  Mail Redirection, DVD’s and letters highlighting another victims experience were also highlighted as being effective. All participants had used these techniques with victims to help them identify similarities with themselves and other victims. This was invaluable where initially there had been reluctance to accept that they had been targeted.

  1. Long-term prevention to address the societal impact of loneliness and social isolation is important

This also has been identified as a risk factor for involvement in financial scams. All interviewees commented on the benefits of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Revive project which offers longer term support to victims of fraud and hate & mate crime delivered by police support volunteers. Fenge et al. (2017, p28) state that in any work with a victim of Mass Marketing Fraud it is essential to “try and find the person”. Brown (2003) agrees that only by understanding the victims’ circumstances and life history can a practitioner develop the appropriate skills in recognising, protecting and preventing further exploitation.

Oliver (2015) also suggests that engagement in scams cannot simply be stopped by giving prevention advice. Lincolnshire’s Operation Revive focuses on how to modify the behaviour of victims through longer term support remedies. This is also identified by the Universities Police Science Institute (2017) as key in what works to persuade people to adopt new practices that better protect them from ongoing risk and repeat victimisation.

  1. General prevention measures around professionals’ education and public awareness raising

The Department of Health (2016) favours a local approach which may include different activities, those across the whole demographic down to targeted individual initiatives. Schemes such as Lincolnshire’s Operation Repeat take this approach, training professionals and volunteers who go into an older, vulnerable persons home to identify repeat victimisation and reinforce prevention messages.

  1. Agencies should share information and work together to ensure the best outcome for the victim

This multi-agency approach is so important to ensure that all services are working together to provide the services required to safeguard an individual. The research identified a number of improvements which could be made around information sharing and easier referral to other agencies.

 

The beauty of research is that we can work as a giant team and help build on each other’s work. So, it could be you who continues this important work to help protect victims against future fraud!

EMPAC will be reporting on more practitioner-researchers soon: stay tuned!

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