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Relatives, friends hoodwinking loved ones, say police

by Marlon Madden
5 min read

Fraud victims are witnessing their own family members, close friends and co-workers trying to bilk them out of millions, a white-collar crime detective has revealed.

But the coronavirus pandemic has seen a decline in fraud attempts, according to new research set to be released soon by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

Royal Barbados Police Force Acting Inspector Sonia Thompson of the Financial Crimes Investigation Unit noted that similarly to the FIU report, police have seen a reduction in the number of reports of fraud since the onset of the pandemic.

Inspector Thompson said it was recognised that in many instances “trusted family members” were the ones carrying out the fraud using their loved one’s bank cards or forging their signatures.

Pointing out that fraud included any type of deception that resulted in someone being deceived into relinquishing funds or assets, Thompson said it also included forgery and identity theft.

She said there have been many instances of people making off with money from individuals after promising goods or services, adding that there were also instances of individuals making off without paying for goods or services they received.

She told an online forum that currently “most of the fraud we are seeing relates a lot to ATM (Automated Teller Machine) withdrawals and sometimes when persons come in and they make that report and we get the footage to support it and when we show them the footage it is a case where they decide ‘I am not going to prosecute anymore. It is a family member. It is someone I know’,” she pointed out.

“So those are some of the things we have been seeing quite a lot. Prior, we were seeing in terms of fraudulent documents, but I know we have been doing quite a bit of training with some of the institutions so we are not seeing those fraudulent documents as much as we were seeing them earlier in the year,” she added.

While stressing there has been no increase in fraudulent activity being reported by businesses over the past year, they were able to use the downtime during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to uncover staff members who were defrauding them.

According to research by the FIU, just over 100 fraud attempts were made between March 2019 and February 2021 at financial institutions, valuing more than $6 million.

Giving an insight into some of the findings of the FIU special report, which is to be made public in a matter of days, FIU Director Kirk Taitt said fraud attempts declined during the pandemic, with even fewer being successful, when compared to the previous year.

He partly attributed this decline to robust oversight measures that regulators, financial institutions and other figures.

Taitt said the report, which has already been submitted to law enforcement officials and financial institutions, examined data from some 500 suspicious transaction/suspicious activity reports for the period March 2019 to February 2020 and again from March 2020 to February 2021 to get a sense of trends pre-COVID-19 and during the pandemic.

In 2019-2020, investigators found 55 attempts at fraud with a value of $4.8 million, out of which 22 were “deemed to be successful” to the tune of $477, 000.

As the coronavirus pandemic forced lockdowns since March 2021, there were 47 attempts at defrauding institutions of $1.4 million, with eight of those attempts being regarded as successful, said the FIU chief.

“So the total dollar value of fraud over those two periods was $6.2 million, while successful attempts totalled just under $600,000 or approximately 10 per cent of the overall value,” Taitt said.

“That told us that for us in Barbados the appetite for fraud was perhaps not as high as in other countries because we had seen an actual decrease in fraudulent attempts . . . it may be more of a result as well of the stakeholders – the banks and credit unions and so on – putting measures in place to make sure that the system is not abused during the COVID crisis.”

Inspector Thompson also pointed out that one “interesting” observation by her department over the last year-and-a-half was that several businesses were able to “go back and do an audit and recognise there were a number of anomalies”.

“That was one of the things particularly between 2020 and 2021 that stood out for us in terms of COVID. Individuals are now in a position to look at their records and they have taken some time to revisit them and they recognise that staff members in these cases were the persons who were perpetuating the fraud. So those are matters now that are before us,” she said.

During the forum, regulators urged individuals and business operators to report fraud even if they may felt embarrassed about it, agreeing that there was the possibility of under-reporting of fraud in Barbados. marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb

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