Small Business Owner In The UK Suffers A Loss Of £1.6m Through Fraud In 20 Minutes 


UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) – The owner of a small business, which fell victim to a £1.6 million fraud in a matter of minutes, has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the response from law enforcement agencies.

At Steve Wright’s company, Kent Brushes, an employee was deceived into granting unauthorized access to the company’s account. Mr. Wright criticized the handling of the case as “extremely poor” by both his bank and Action Fraud.

Disappeared Funds In 20 Minutes 

This incident coincides with a high-ranking law enforcement official advocating for extended prison sentences for individuals convicted of fraud.

Adrian Searle, the Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, pointed out that while the current maximum sentence for fraud stands at 10 years, the average sentence is merely around two years, and even in the most severe instances, it is limited to just four years.

In the period leading up to March 2023, the Home Office documented 1.25 million instances of fraud. Among these cases, approximately 4% underwent investigation, resulting in just over 4,000 cases being brought to court.

Mr. Wright finds it challenging to articulate the moment he discovered the disappearance of funds from Kent Brushes, a company with a heritage dating back to 1777 and known for supplying hairbrushes to the Royal Family.

“I can’t truly convey the emotions I experienced,” he remarked.

Company Becomes Target Of Authroized Push Payment Scam 

In early July, the financial controller of his Hertfordshire-based company became the target of a sophisticated authorized push payment (APP) scam. This type of scam involves criminals using psychological manipulation to dupe victims into transferring money to the perpetrators themselves.

In this instance, the victim was misled into believing that the company’s funds were in jeopardy, after which the criminals manipulated him to gain access to the company’s bank account.

Subsequently, the fraudsters swiftly absconded with £1.6 million through numerous fraudulent transactions, all transpiring in under 20 minutes.

“My heart sank. My initial reaction was, ‘this must be a mistake.’ Surely the bank would step in to aid us in recovering the funds,” Mr. Wright recounted during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box.

“I empathized with my financial controller, who had become a victim… and immediately shifted my focus to the question of ‘how can we initiate the process of reclaiming these funds?'”

Calls for Extended Prison Sentences in Fraud Cases

He reached out to Hertfordshire Police, who advised him to file his complaint with Action Fraud, the central reporting agency for fraud and cyber-crime, overseen by the City of London Police.

Having several dozen employees and an annual turnover of approximately £11 million, the company does not enjoy the same safeguards as individual consumers, like those provided by the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Contingent Reimbursement Model code.

Many mainstream banks are participants in these programs, which compel them to reimburse innocent victims of such fraudulent activities.

Just a month following the theft of the funds, Action Fraud sent him a letter, which he characterizes as one that declared the “case closed.”

After an internal review, Action Fraud acknowledged that they had inaccurately documented the particulars of the crime, offered an apology, and asserted that they have implemented measures to prevent such errors in the future.

Mr. Wright’s bank, Barclays, emphasized that it was clear the customer had fallen prey to a sophisticated scam, underlining that no legitimate bank would ever request individuals to transfer money or disclose sensitive information, including one-time passcodes.

The bank added that they had furnished Kent Brushes with substantial information regarding fraud awareness and education to help safeguard against scams, specifically this type of scam.

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Case Goes Undergoes Extensive Scruitny 

They concluded that the case had undergone extensive scrutiny at the highest levels, and their decision remained unaltered: the responsibility for the loss would be attributed to the business customer.

It emphasized that collaborating with law enforcement was pivotal in combatting scams and apprehending fraudsters.

Regarding Mr. Wright’s case, Adrian Searle, representing the National Economic Crime Centre, stated, “What we acknowledge is that the law enforcement response to fraud is currently insufficient, and we are in the process of implementing significant changes to enhance that response.”

He further elaborated, “One of these major changes is the transformation of Action Fraud itself, with our colleagues at the City of London Police overseeing a comprehensive program to enhance Action Fraud.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.