Cyber Fraud: Can a private prosecution secure stolen funds?

A Wiltshire car firm has suffered financial losses totalling £400,000 after a cyber fraudster ordered 40 cars following fraudulently obtaining the company’s log-in details. The police have yet to charge the fraudster. This case is one of many that happen daily in the UK where the facts are there to lay information at the Magistrates Court for a private prosecution.

Usually the relevant law enforcement authority the Police Force and/or the Crown Prosecution Service (the CPS) have declined to investigate or bring a prosecution on behalf of the Queen (the Crown).  A private prosecution can often result in what would be lengthy civil action being settled quickly with the wrongdoer party threatened with a criminal summons agreeing to repay monies or return valuable assets.

How did the hacker commit the fraud?

An unknown hacker obtained the company’s log-in for the online ordering system and proceeded to order around 40 cars in the space of one afternoon. The hacker made orders of luxury cars which included vehicles such as Aston Martins and Range Rovers, which totalled in an order worth £400,000.

What police action has taken place since the fraud?

Following the fraud, the M4 Van Centre approached the Wiltshire Police to report the £400,000 scam to Action Fraud however it has been reported that the county force”didn’t seem interested”.

Jason Watkins a sales manager at the company stated that “When we were reporting this to the police it was kind of a joke,”

“It gives you option one, option two, option three. They don’t put your through. Then you get cut off.”

He also said: “What I want is action from the police to get themselves into gear and help us out. This isn’t £10,000. This isn’t an eBay fraud. It’s £400,000. This is serious crime.”

Mr Watkins shared that the staff at the firm has both attempted to contact the police in person and online to log the crime however were only given a crime number for their troubles.

What consequences followed the fraud?

The Swindon company did not pay for the vehicles that have been ordered, however have now been blocked from placing any orders with the three suppliers that were involved.

The company employs 38 members of staff and buys an average of 60 cars per month to sell onto customers. Mr Watkins stated that

He said: “It could have massive financial implications for a smaller business.

“Luckily, we’re in a good position and we can ride out the storm, but this could cripple a smaller business.

“We need to buy stock. These leasing companies won’t sell us stock because of this fraud.”

Have the police made any response?

Wiltshire Police fraud manager Jon Lee said: “I have made contact with Action Fraud regarding this case and they have confirmed they have received the report made by Mr Watkins on the January 27, 2020.

“However, it has not yet been disseminated for further investigation at this stage. It is normal procedure that once a report is made to Action Fraud, it will be sent for assessment by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

“The NFIB’s systems assess reports of fraud and cybercrime from across the UK, helping to build a national picture of where fraud and cybercrime is taking place. Experts review the data from these reports to decide whether there is enough information to send to a police force for further investigation.

“All dissemination sent to Wiltshire Police are treated seriously.”

What is cybercrime?

Cybercrime is a catch-all term for criminals using digital technology for criminal activity, usually to steal information, data, goods, assets or money. Specialist criminals target individuals, SMEs and large corporations to hack private data and profit from the stolen data available to them.

How widespread is cybercrime?

1 in 10 people in England and Wales are victims of cybercrime. Hackers have stolen over £130billion from consumers in 2017 alone, which includes £4.6billion from British users of the internet. Losses suffered by victims of financial crime are more than simply financial, as victims of cyber fraud on average spend two days dealing with the effects of cybercrime.

The growth of the internet and the increasing use of e-commerce coupled with the digitalisation of our bank accounts and personal details has meant crime and fraud have evolved. Individuals can be robbed on the street but increasingly individuals are being robbed online. High-net worth individuals have been specifically targeted by criminals.

Because cybercrime is so widespread, it is difficult for the police, CPS and Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to deal adequately with prosecuting hackers. A private prosecution offers the victim of a cybercrime a tailored means of redress which cannot be offered by the State but can be provided by the Private Prosecution Service.

What is a private prosecution for fraud?

A private prosecution for fraud is a criminal prosecution brought by individuals or companies that are the victims of crime and public prosecuting authorities are unwilling to act. Individuals and companies have the right to bring a private prosecution under section 6 (1) Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.  

The main fraud offences are in the Theft Act 1968 and the Fraud Act 2006. To prove a fraudulent offence has been committed, it is necessary to show that that a person acted dishonestly, intending to make a gain for himself or another or cause loss to another.

When is a private prosecution for fraud more suitable than civil proceedings?

The borderline between civil liability and criminal liability for Fraud Act 2006 offences is relatively thin. The CPS advise that “prosecutors should guard against the criminal law being used as a debt collection agency”The Private Prosecution Service ensure that at the outset of considering a private prosecution for fraud, that the offence alleged reflects the true level of criminality; that the evidential stage of the Full Code Test is met and that the public interest stage of the Full Code Test is established.

Are private prosecutions for fraud cost effective?

Yes, a private prosecution for fraud can also be a cost effective solution to recovering any sums fraudulently taken. The state bear the cost of investigating and prosecuting a fraud offender during a public prosecution. In addition, if a private prosecutor is unsuccessful, it is unlikely that the court will make a costs order against the prosecutor if the case was conducted diligently and carefully. In this case, the Defendant would be entitled to compensation from central funds.

However, for a private prosecution it is also possible for a Court to order payment out of central funds to compensate a private prosecutor to recover a significant proportion of their legal costs.

Instruct Specialist Private Prosecution Lawyers

The Private Prosecution Service [“PPS”] is a leading legal services provider that specialises in providing high quality legal advice to businesses, governments, government organisations and individuals. Private prosecution cases for fraud are our expertise. Private prosecutions can be a powerful, speedy and clinical means of obtaining justice from a fraudster. It is important to have as much evidence to hand for a private prosecution as the traditional law enforcement agencies have powers to gather evidence that are not available to private prosecutors.

Our expert team of prosecutors are experienced at advising on potential strategies and skilled at targeting the evidence needed to prove a fraud conviction and are experts in ensuring whatever evidence is available is admissible in any subsequent criminal proceedings.

We are the only law firm to operate from professional legal chambers located in the ancient Middle Temple (Inn of Court), near the Royal Courts of Justice and in the legal heart of Central London. Our team of lawyers, which comprises a mixture of solicitors and barristers, provide a first class and comprehensive legal service to help you get justice.

For the best Private Prosecution Lawyers in London call 02071830529 or email .

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