Bill McCluggage: Fraud awareness key to protecting private and public sector

Bill McCluggage

WITH unprecedented levels of inflation, an ever-tightening squeeze on the labour market, and the cost of fuel and materials across all sectors spiralling at the moment, businesses are operating in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable trading environment. As firms come out the other side of the pandemic, there are challenges for business leaders and employers to grapple with as they get back on their feet again.

While the aforementioned factors are well known to businesses at this stage, awareness of threats like fraud and white-collar crime is weaker. While exact data is scarce for Northern Ireland – which is ironically a problem within itself - PwC’s most recent Economic Crime Survey found that over half of Irish businesses have experienced economic crime in the last 24 months.

With pandemic lockdowns and a surge in online shopping, as well as a reliance on internet communication, fraudsters have taken advantage of changing habits. People living in Northern Ireland are not immune from fraud and while you might expect the risk of fraud to be the same wherever you live in the UK, Action Fraud figures show that people are over twice as likely to report being a victim of any type of fraud in the east of England than those living and working in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Fraud Forum is a new and innovative organisation which aims to promote fraud awareness among businesses and the public and third sector in Northern Ireland, allow members to understand how best to mitigate against the risks involved, and increase knowledge of how to respond effectively to fraud.

Launching today at a hybrid event in the MAC and online, the forum mirrors similar organisations from across the UK and Ireland who are committed to educating business owners and entrepreneurs about the threat, signals, and consequences of fraud.

Comprised of private sector industry professionals like Eversheds Sutherland, Grant Thornton and PKF-FPM, as well as public organisations like HMRC and the PSNI, the forum is a public-private-third sector partnership which seeks to address a gap in the local business community by dedicating itself to the prevention and investigation of fraud and economic crime.

The government is making concerted moves to address and tackle fraud. In his recent Spring Statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an investment of £48m for a new counter-fraud authority over the next three years to step up efforts against fraud and recover millions of pounds.

Trade body UK Finance estimates that around £7bn is lost to economic crime in the UK each year. This is a staggering figure for our economy to be bleeding on an annual basis. On a macro level, this means lost investment and innovation in our wider economy. On a micro level, as we’ve seen with some high-profile local examples over the past number of years, this means reduced hours for staff, pay cuts, redundancies and, regrettably, in the case of personal fraud, life changing circumstances.

The Northern Ireland Fraud Forum is keen to play a key role in spotting instances of fraud, tackling economic crime, and educating local businesses about the consequences of fraud on their operations. This new initiative will do just that, and we would encourage businesses of all shapes and sizes to get involved and help spread awareness of the dangers of fraud.

:: Bill McCluggage is chair of Northern Ireland Fraud Forum


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