North East businesses are being warned to stay vigilant as a fraud epidemic sweeps the country.
Last year, according to Financial Fraud Action UK, losses of a staggering £755m were recorded through scams involving payment cards, cheques, internet and mobile phone banking.
But detection and interventions prevented fraudsters getting away with more than double that figure.
“In fact the whole picture is probably far, far worse,” said Graeme Carter of Durham-based Shred Direct. “FFA UK just represents the payments industry. Unfortunately fraud has become an epidemic affecting all sectors – and it can start with something as simple as a discarded bank statement or letter head.”
In Durham local businesses, the police and the region’s three police commissioners have just taken part in the first North East in Crime Summit and the government is so concerned at the level of fraud that last month Home Secretary Theresa May set up a taskforce to tackle it.
One of the taskforce members believes the problem is not just the result of cybercrime and phone hacking.
“Criminals are continually looking to exploit old and new technology alike to deceive both individuals and organisations into revealing private information that will enable them to commit fraud, sometimes on an industrial level,” said Detective Chief Superintendent David Clark, who heads the City of London police’s economic crime unit.
Graeme Carter, who has been helping North East businesses safely dispose of confidential paperwork for more than 20 years, said: “New technology is changing the way we work and store information and unfortunately there are some very clever people who are misusing it to further their criminal actions.”
He added: “But even though we live and work in the digital age, the idea of a paperless office is a myth for the vast majority of businesses. Thousands and thousands of documents are printed, stored and often forgotten about until there is a clear out which often entails a member of staff sitting for hours at a shredding machine.”
Last week Christopher Watson, the former finance director of Duncan Bannatyne’s fitness club business – who was jailed last year for defrauding the company out of nearly £8m – was ordered by Teesside Crown Court to pay back nearly £500,000.
“While cases like these rightly make the headlines,” said Graeme. “What is not reported are the thousands and thousands of businesses and individuals who are also ripped off. Don’t become victims of fraud or identify theft. Don’t be careless with your documents.”