Private lawyers will be deployed instead of police for the first time amid increased efforts to seize back assets for the victims of fraud.
Fraudsters will be hit with criminal investigations and civil asset recovery measures aimed at clawing back millions of pounds lost every year.
The move is a tacit admission by law enforcement agencies that they need urgent help to combat the 3.2 million fraud cases being referred to them every year. They acknowledge that money can be nearly impossible to recover in cases such as dating scams, lottery frauds and stolen identities.
Until now police have been forced to rely on the Proceeds of Crime Act to confiscate money linked to crime. However, the law can be slow and unwieldy because of the evidence threshold, while criminals often have been effective at hiding their assets from police. Limited resources also mean that many cases cannot be pursued. In a programme piloted by City of London police, lawyers who specialise in asset recovery will be deployed to fraud cases in an attempt to use their expertise to seize back more money.
The private firms will speak to victims and use civil routes such as search orders and freezing injunctions to claim back defrauded money. It will also allow City of London, the country's lead force for economic crime, to focus on investigations and prosecutions.
In a two-year scheme financed by the Home Office police innovation fund, Mishcon de Reya and Edmonds Marshall McMahon, the legal firms, will tackle cases. Kroll will sit on the panel to offer its investigative services.
Rob Wynn Jones, a civil fraud and injunction specialist at Mishcon de Reya, said that asset recovery could be faster and more successful when taken on by private sector experts.
"The reality is that if we hadn't set up [the new programme], there would be many victims who would otherwise not have obtained any asset recovery whatsoever, because government agencies don't have the resource to run it the way that we can," he said.
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