Vulnerability as a driver of the police response to fraud

Date29 January 2020
Published date29 January 2020
AuthorMichael Skidmore,Janice Goldstraw-White,Martin Gill
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Vulnerability as a driver of the police
response to fraud
Michael Skidmore, Janice Goldstraw-White and Martin Gill
Purpose Frameworks for understandingvictim harm and vulnerability have become central to priority-
setting and resource allocationfor decision-makers in the police and government in the UK. This paper
aims to look at the meaningof vulnerability in the context of fraud.
Design/methodology/approach The research tooka mixed methods approach,including analysis of
national crime data (n= 61,902), qualitative data collected from interviews with practitioners (n=107)
and a surveyof strategic lead officers in the police (n= 32).
Findings There was a lack of clarity acrosspractitioners and organisations in their understandingof
vulnerabilityand the way it informed the police response to fraud,and a lack of resources and capability
for identifyingit.
Research limitations/implications The authorsinvite reconsideration of the approachto fraud victims
which havefor too long been forgotten by response and support agencies.
Practical implications We need to standardise and agree the definition of ‘‘vulnerability’’; rethink
eligibility levels; and refocus police on fraud victims taking vulnerability as a meaningful criterion in
decidingwho to support.
Originality/value There is very little research on vulnerability and fraud victims; this paper, based on
originalresearch, fills this gap.
Keywords Victims, Vulnerability, Fraud victims, Policing fraud, Policing priorities, Supporting victims
Paper type Research paper
In recent years, strategic and operational assessments of vulnerability have become more
central to directing police resources and it has constituted a significant proportion of crime
and non-crime related demand (College of Policing, 2015;Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of
Constabulary [HMIC], 2015). This change has caused a significant realignment of priorities,
structures and resources within the police, with the focus moving from crimes reported in
high volumes, towards more acute, but less visible harm and vulnerability in the community
(Hales and Higgins, 2016). This may in part be explained by a long-term consistent decline
in volume acquisitive crime (for example, see Farrell et al., 2014), but also the political and
strategic prominence of serious and organised crimes, such as modern slavery and child
sexual abuse, which had in the past been overlooked by the authorities (HM Government,
2018). In parallel with these changes, there has been an unprecedented surge in the
volume of fraud in the UK (Office for National Statistics, 2019). There is a need to situate this
expanding fraud demand in the current strategic and operational policing frameworks
which place harm and vulnerability at their centre.
Vulnerability has become central to shaping public services in the UK and overseas. It
represents a socio-political agenda to counter inequalities in society by targeting public
services to meet the needs of disadvantaged and otherwise marginalised groups and
communities (Bartkowiak-Theron and Asquith, 2012;Bartkowiak and Jaccoud, 2008).
Michael Skidmore is based
at the Police Foundation,
London, UK.
Janice Goldstraw-White
and Martin Gill are both
based at the Perpetuity
Research and Consultancy
International, Tunbridge
Wells, UK.
Received 25 November 2019
Revised 1 January 2020
Accepted 2 January 2020
The authors are grateful to the
Dawes Trust for sponsoring this
DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-11-2019-0068 VOL. 6 NO. 1 2020, pp. 49-64, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGICAL RESEARCH, POLICY AND PRACTICE jPAGE 49
However, there have been challenges in translating this agenda into a clear direction for
practitioners on the ground. For the police and wider services, there is practitioner
confusion about what it is and what they should do to respond to it (Brown, 2011;Keay and
Kirby, 2017). Despite the ambiguity, there is an observed tendency for practitioners on the
ground to apply vulnerability as a “technical”, self-referential classification, one with
considerable influence over a person’s entitlements to public resources (Brown, 2011).
Critics also describe assessment protocols that commonly reduce vulnerability down to
tick-box instruments that focus on specific demographic groups (for example, young and
disabled people) that are assumed to requirespecial consideration (Bartkowiak-Theron and
Asquith, 2015). In this regard, assessments and systems do not acknowledge the
complexities and the dynamic nature of vulnerability; a transient condition that can affect
any person for a period of time (Bartkowiak-Theron and Asquith, 2015;Henning, 2011;
Innes and Innes, 2013). Consequently, this raises questions over whether practitioners, in
their assessments, are identifyingthe right people in need of a service.
While there is evidence of variance in the application of vulnerability across police
jurisdictions (Her Majesty’sInspectorate of Constabulary [HMIC], 2015), a national definition
of vulnerability has been developedin England and Wales:
A person is vulnerable if, as a result of their situation or circumstances they are unable to take
care of, or protect themselves or others, from harmor exploitation (College of Policing, 2019).
In this definition, the type or severity of harm is not specified, leaving the status of being
vulnerable open to interpretation across the range of situations orcircumstance in which the
police operate. Unrelated to this, other definitions have been developed, such as that which
determines an entitlement to receive an enhanced support service in the Victims Code of
Practice (Ministry of Justice, 2015).This posits a more confined set of circumstances under
which someone should be identified as vulnerable; for example, childrenand young people
or those with a disability.
In a context where vulnerability has become a critical driver of police decision-making, but
one for which implementation has been found to lack consistency and robustness, it is of
interest to explore its application in an area such as fraud.Fraud has long been a crime that
has not been prioritised by the police (Button and Tunley, 2015;Doig and Levi, 2013;HM
Government, 2006;Skidmore et al.,2018) and added to that, the harms, experiences and
needs of victims in the general public and business communities have been overlooked
(Button et al.,2014;Cross, 2015;Fraud Advisory Panel, 2016).
It is organisations with a focus on consumer protection, including Trading Standards and
third-sector support services, where much has been done to highlight the susceptibility of
the elderly population to fraud. They have highlighted the risks to some in these
communities who are less able to protect themselves and who are subject to repeated
targeting by fraudsters (Age UK, 2015;Couture and Pardoe, 2017). Indeed, Trading
Standards has developed intelligence on “suckers lists”, comprised of elderly individuals
(many over the age of 70) who have fallen victim to fraud and are considered likely to fall
victim again (Chartered Trading Standards Institute, 2016;Crocker et al.,2017). There is a
subset of the elderly population who are described as “chronic” victims, and some are
repeatedly victimised because of an inability to identify or screen out attempts to defraud
them and in some cases following a process of grooming by the offender. These victims
can suffer substantial financiallosses (Age UK, 2015;Button et al.,2009).
The susceptibility of the elderlyis commonly framed within the consumer protection remitfor
preventing “scams” which are often committed by post, over the phone or door-to-door
(Age UK, 2015;Phillips, 2017). In other contexts, such as online fraud, a younger
demographic has been found to be more susceptible to victimisation (Hadlington and
Chivers, 2018). However, the nature and implications of vulnerability in this wider context
has been subject to much less empirical scrutiny. One notable exception is romance fraud,

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