Firms face overload as white-collar crime soars

FIRMS acting in fraud cases are reporting a heavier case load as new statistics reveal an explosion in white-collar crime.

Major UK fraud has more than doubled since 1997, accor-ding to figures released by KPMG Forensic Accounting.

In 1998 there were 60 serious cases, each over £100,000 and costing a total of £279m.

Ian Burton, partner at Burton Copeland, says his firm has taken on a significant amount of extra work over the past 18 months.

But he says companies are still reluctant to admit they may have a problem with fraud, and should be more willing to ask for specialist legal advice.

“I have the view that a lot of people don't take fraud seriously enough. I think you often get a position where people think they are doing what is commercially appropriate and are surprised when someone points out that they have misrepresented the situation. They say, that's business – but it isn't business, it's dishonest,” he says.

The latest rise is partly due to the impact of mid-1990s investment and pyramid frauds, which have only recently come to court.

Alex Plavsic, fraud investigation partner with KPMG Forensic Accounting, says the current trend is still upwards, although the nature of the fraud has changed.

“The frauds we are seeing today appear to be the product of less prosperous times. I have seen numerous recent cases of accounts manipulation and management over-ride in order to cover losses and maintain income and bonus levels.”

However, he believes companies are becoming more vigilant in managing fraud risk and investigating fraud cases internally.

Keith Oliver, partner at Peters & Peters, agrees. “There is not just increased vigilance, but increased scrutiny. There are now very strict statutory obligations upon auditors to report wrongdoing to the relevant authorities. That has given rise to additional work for us, particularly in terms of civil and regulatory cases which are not included in the KPMG figures.”