FCA Chair: Investment Fraud has Reached Epidemic Proportions

The regulator has called on internet giants to do more in protecting consumers against scams.

Financial crime, especially fraud against individuals, has reached epidemic proportions. That’s according to Charles Randell, Chair of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), who spoke at the Cambridge Economic Crime Symposium on Wednesday.

Charles Randell, Chair of the FCA
Charles Randell, Chair of the FCA
Source: FCAA

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“One of the most damaging financial crimes is investment fraud, where people are scammed out of their savings,” Randell said before he posed a number of questions that need to be addressed in order to combat financial fraud.

It is no question that fraud within the financial industry is a real threat for investors. On almost a daily basis, we here at Finance Magnates are covering warnings from global regulators as they flag suspected scams and unauthorized entities.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for 2018/19, the total volume of fraud affecting individuals was 3.8 million cases. This figure made up around one-third of the total volume of 11.2 million crimes. 

As Finance Magnates reported, the British regulator has previously stated that fraud within the foreign exchange (forex) and cryptocurrency industry is prevalent. Specifically, £27 million ($34.4 million) was lost by investors to FX and cryptocurrency-related scams in the 2018/2019 fiscal year.

According to the FCA, authorities received 1,834 scam reports last year. That was almost a four-fold increase in the prior twelve-month period.

What is the FCA doing to tackle investment fraud?

According to Randell, the watchdog’s strategy for tackling financial crime can be divided into three parts – focusing on the firms it operates and monitoring their regulated activities, alerting consumers to the risks of scams, and taking action to shut down unauthorized investment businesses.

“Last year we published over 500 consumer alerts about unauthorized firms, and we currently have over 40 live enforcement investigations in this area,” he highlighted during his speech.

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The limits of the FCA are limited to what falls under its purview. In addition, its influence is also constrained by politics, which determine how much freedom of choice consumers can have and how much intervention the regulator can take.

“Nevertheless, the FCA is taking action against the sale of specific types of high-risk investment to retail investors. Such as our proposed changes for peer-to-peer lending. Or our ban on high-risk bets on investments. Or our ban on bets on cryptocurrencies.”

“We are increasing our activities to disrupt harmful minibond issuance, although because the activity is not currently regulated and much of the issuance is conducted by firms we don’t authorize, there is a limit to what we can do in this space.”

UK regulator calls for internet giants to pull their weight

In the speech, the Chair of the FCA also called for internet giants to pull their weight by better protecting people’s privacy and stopping data breaches, which in turn, can enable a large amount of fraud.

“Major companies can effectively enable a huge amount of fraud,” Randell outlined. “The companies which allow people’s personal data to be stolen. The companies which promote advertisements for scams on the internet and thereby profit from these crimes. Quite frankly, they don’t always play their part in remedying the harm they create.”

While he does recognize that these companies have obstacles such as the internet being dynamic and changing rapidly, as well as there being legal complications, Randell asks for companies to take down suspected fraudulent activity immediately when they are requested to do so by authorities.

“I don’t believe that these measures would prejudice freedom of speech. Or that dissent and democracy in our society will be any weaker if we throw some well-aimed grit into the cogs of the online scammers,” he added.

You can read the full speech here.

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