Online fraud is now the most common crime in the UK.

After a marked increase in enquiries from government departments and non-departmental public bodies (NDPB) about our software, we decided it was time to get some interested parties around a table to discuss.

That’s why, on the 26 July, we organised a roundtable with TechUK to discuss the increasing problem of fraud in the public and private sectors, and how technology can help in tackling it.

The panel comprised a broad range of interested parties: Ian Dyson, Commissioner of the City of London Police was the keynote speaker in a session chaired by Mark Goossens from IBM. We had delegates from the Serious Fraud Office, Home Office, and the Police Foundation – with industry voices from diverse companies including PWC, Yoti and Symantec.

5 key takeaways after techUK’s roundtable event on harnessing tech to combat fraud

We covered a lot of ground in a few hours, Below are five key takeaways from the event.

1. Open standards and open APIs are key, but open collaboration remains a challenge

One event attendee worked in the insurance industry, trying to tackle fraud on a large scale – up to 180 incidents every day. His fraud team has great inhouse investigation teams, but they lack an effective means of sharing this information with the police. Too often, data-sharing is a horribly time-consuming, manual process involving spreadsheets, emails and multiple departments.

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There are pockets of innovation, inside and away from policing. We brought up the INTEROPen action group as a sign that this collaboration between public and private sectors can work successfully. Chair Ian Dyson spoke enthusiastically about the great work that Action Fraud was doing using open, collaborative API technology. And police effectiveness will be helped by the delivery of some national programmes – the Digital Intelligence and Investigation Programme (DII) and National Law Enforcement Data Programme (NLEDP) will facilitate the sharing of data within policing. But there is more to do across agencies and external third parties.

Without shared standards, effective innovation is limited and happening on an ad-hoc basis.

2. Police have to remain relevant in the fraud conversation

Delegates heard the CEO of a financial institution describe the initial steps that she would take in the event of a cyber fraud attack. The first question is addressed to the CTO: “has it stopped?” The second question is to the Head of Communications: “Is the attack in the public domain – has our reputation been damaged?” and the third question is addressed to the Head of Audit: “Find out what happened – and the extent of the damage done”.

Some time later, it’s likely that someone will ask the question “Should we perhaps contact the police?” Open APIs would clearly help share information far better, but the public and private sector is one of culture, too. If the police carry on the way they’re going, they risk becoming irrelevant. There was no criticism of private sector culture – indeed, people understood that things won’t be reported if the police don’t offer a meaningful response.

Around the table, there was the view that policing needs a new model. Traditionally, the police held the intelligence they needed within ‘in-house’ but now, with the increasing complexities of cyber and internet-enabled fraud, much more of the data that policing needs sits outside of its control.

This represents a sea change in the way the sectors think and work together, but third parties and private institutions have the technology, budget and expertise to provide hugely valuable data to police investigation teams.

3. Tech can support the new ways of working in fraud

Chasing international criminal gangs around the world, monitoring banks, following the money, spotting investigative links – all the things that make fraud appealing to investigators – is attractive to a certain type of police officer.

Currently, however, all officers need to do two years dealing with local incidents on the beat before they can get involved in the nitty gritty of complex investigations.

Cyber fraud - 4 police tech takeaways from TechUK's 2018 Fraud Roundtable

The TechUK Roundtable revealed the growing realisation that policing requires specialisation in some areas. To make investigative roles more appealing, police need to offer immediate experience of dealing with complex fraud cases, with the incentive to work in the private sector afterwards.

How does technology help police achieve this culture shift? By being simple to use. If an investigator is to come straight into a fraud team, they need the best tools for doing the job: systems that highlight investigative links, provide intelligence or build case reports, that put a premium on user experience and capabilities, and don’t feel like stepping back two decades when you use them.

If the new narrative around policing is about looking forward, investigative technology needs to help change the experience of dealing with fraud cases.

4. The AI question

Participants were urged to reflect on the changing characteristics of organised crime, which is more multi-layered than ever. The traditional notion of a “drugs gang” – or other single commodity criminal enterprise – has gone and the threat is more entrepreneurial and multi-dimensional

These complex networks, combined with the increase in incidents of fraud and the shrinking of some Economic Crime Units, represents a huge challenge. If a private team detects 180 instances of fraud every day but can only tackle ten of them, something must change.

Technology – and in particular, AI or Machine Learning – can do some of the legwork for stretched police units, and a little bit of automation can give investigators a fighting chance to hit the ground running and tackle new cases.

Rather than having to read six 20-page reports, for instance, AI-powered smart police systems can do the job for police teams, pulling out pertinent information in a fraction of the time. With fewer people tasked with handling more, smart technology is really the only way to work better.

5. This isn‘t going to be easy!

Despite some clear action points, there was an acknowledgement from all involved that this won’t happen overnight.

Fraud does, of course, have real victims, but we need to be realistic. It’s hard to make the case for additional resources ahead of the demands of those investigating predatory behaviours, for instance.

Also, there is still the 43 force structure in which national progress requires the unanimous agreement of 43 chiefs and PCCs, there are many obstacles to data sharing, some technical and some cultural – and the service acknowledges its shortcomings in the way it has traditionally bought technology.

However, the right people are making the right noises about how to tackle this increasing (and increasingly complex) issue. The next challenge, as we know, is turning those noises into meaningful action.

The question is not how we should start to tackle the issue, then; it’s when.