Priorities for the investigation of fraud cases

Home Office circular 47 / 2004

Priorities for the investigation of fraud cases

  • Broad subject: Crime and Disorder
  • Issue date: Tue Aug 24 00:00:00 BST 2004
  • From:
  • Linked circulars:
    No Linked Circulars
  • Copies sent to:
    Clerks to the Police Authorities
  • Sub category: Fraud
  • Implementation date: Wed Sep 01 00:00:00 BST 2004
  • For more info contact:
    Caroline Johnson 020 7411 5571
  • Addressed to:
    Chief Officers of Police in England and Wales

Dear Chief Officer

A working group on which the Serious Fraud Office, Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service, Department of Trade and Industry and police were represented has drawn up the following list of priorities to be taken into account by the police when deciding whether to accept a fraud case for investigation. These priorities are not specific rules governing which cases the police will accept, nor are they intended to be exhaustive or ranked in any particular order. Nothing in these guidelines should be taken as preventing the police from investigating any case that they consider it appropriate to investigate.

Fraud encompasses a wide variety of offences. For the purposes of these priorities, “fraud” is being taken as including:

  • theft;
  • all offences of deception under the Theft Acts;
  • forgery and counterfeiting offences;
  • other documentary frauds, such as false accounting;
  • fraudulent trading;
  • insider dealing;
  • offences under the Financial Services and Markets Act relating to misleading market practices;
  • conspiracy to defraud.

We recognise that police fraud squads usually also investigate allegations of corruption. The priorities set out here have been identified as relevant when considering how to pursue an allegation of one of the types of offences set out above. Further consideration is being given to appropriate priorities for corruption cases.

The decision on whether to investigate an allegation of fraud, and on the resources to be devoted to any investigation, rests solely with the police. The police will only investigate in circumstances where there are good grounds to believe that a criminal offence has been committed. In some cases, some form of preliminary inquiry may assist the police in determining whether the case is suitable for a full investigation. In making this decision, the police will have regard to the resources available, government and local policing priorities, and the competing priorities of other fraud and criminal cases already under investigation as well as the priorities set out below.

The police will need co-operation and support from victims at all stages of investigation and prosecution. Victims will need to identify and preserve original documents and provide them to the police if necessary.


  • Frauds involving substantial sums of money. (NB. Cases meeting the acceptance criteria of the SFO may be referred directly to the SFO, either by the victim or the police).
  • Frauds having a significant impact on the victim(s). A negligible loss to a large company, for example, could be catastrophic for a private individual or small business.
  • Frauds affecting particularly vulnerable victims (eg the elderly, people with disabilities, businesses providing key services in difficult circumstances) or in distinct communities.
  • Frauds giving rise to significant public concern (possibly highlighted by a high degree of press interest).
  • Frauds committed by, or knowingly facilitated by, professional advisers (eg lawyers, accountants, merchant bankers).
  • Frauds likely to undermine confidence in leading UK institutions or otherwise undermine the economy.
  • Frauds committed by members of Boards or other senior managers.
  • Frauds where law enforcement action could have a material deterrent effect.
  • Frauds which indicate a risk of more substantial/extensive fraud occurring.
  • Cases where the victim has devoted significant resources to fraud prevention or has been willing to participate in appropriate crime prevention partnerships or otherwise assist the police.
  • Frauds which it has been agreed should be a current law enforcement priority.

Cases where a more cautious approach might be appropriate

  • Cases where the victim’s motive for making the complaint appears to be malicious, primarily focused on recovering monies owed, or designed to distract attention from the complainant’s own involvement in the fraud. (Such cases might nevertheless merit investigation, particularly where there are other victims involved).
  • Cases where victims are not prepared to co-operate fully with investigation and prosecution, although the police will always consider carefully how to assist victims and witnesses who have concerns about safety.
  • Frauds more suitable for investigation by another enforcement or regulatory agency.
  • Cases where another police force has decided not to investigate other than for geographical reasons.
  • Frauds that have already been investigated by the police or other enforcement agency or that have been the subject of regulatory proceedings, unless significant new evidence has come to light or the previous investigation had a narrow remit that did not address all the relevant issues.
  • Cases where the existence of other proceedings might have a detrimental effect on a criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution.
  • Frauds where the victim’s conduct has contributed to the loss, in particular where the police have previously given guidance or warnings to victims about fraud risks that have not been acted upon.
  • Frauds which took place a long time ago (probably more that 2 years) unless there are exceptional circumstances.
  • Frauds where the likely eventual outcome, in terms of length of sentence and/or financial penalty, is not sufficient to justify the likely cost and effort of the investigation.

Note: Police forces have a responsibility to provide support to the investigation of cases occurring in their respective police areas and accepted by the SFO. In London, the City of London Police will provide additional investigative resources for Metropolitan Police cases and to other forces in the South East under the terms of its regional 'Lead Force' role for SFO cases.

Caroline Johnson

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