National Crime Agency still 'assessing' bank signature forgery bundles two years on, despite 639 claims
by Alex Varley-Winter, TTF’s Head of Media Relations & Investigative Reporting
Distressed borrowers have joined with the man who elevated Operation Hornet, to accuse the National Crime Agency of moving its goal-posts to avoid investigating longstanding claims of ‘industrial-scale’ forgery.
This comes in spite of the fact that MPs have repeatedly asked the NCA to ‘investigate as appropriate’ claims of fraud and invalid documentation.
The agency is currently at loggerheads with complainants alleging signature forgery or invalid documentation by staff in a range of institutions. These include historic claims against staff in two major banks (RBS and HBOS/Lloyds).
“The serious charge, which the NCA is refusing to investigate, is signature forgery and the use of deliberately invalid documentation, including in court”, the Banking Action Network alleges, and adds: “Following a meeting between the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner, the Bank Signature Forgeries Campaign (BSFC) and Mr Biggar [of the NECC] in March, the former [Mr Stansfeld] concluded that the NCA and NECC have no intention of investigating* the matter further.”
*Interestingly, the use of the word ‘investigating’ here was rejected by the NCA, when TTF Blog approached them this week, with these allegations.
The NCA, for its side, has never opened an investigation but is instead still “assessing” the claims in its National Economic Crime Centre. This is a point of deep frustration for complainants who want the documents scrutinised with a view to bringing charges.
24 files ‘assessed’
The National Crime Agency’s Economic Crime Centre has so far received 24 files containing 639 individual crime reports of alleged signature forgery or use of invalid documents, from the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign.
As one complainant observes: “The NCA acts with commendable haste over county lines drug dealing”, a devastating organised crime. Why does the agency not apply the same rigour to allegations of signature forgery?
Such cases – as with identity thefts – may not only result in destitution for targeted clients. If forged documents pass into the court, this can undermine the perceived integrity of the civil court, a corrosion of its purpose.
Smash and grab
If some lenders actually stooped to crime for the purpose of asset-stripping, that is a major scandal. It is nested, though, within a far wider, acknowledgement by banking experts that unethical targeting of customers to boost profits was normalised.
Peter Crawley, who authored the book ‘How Banks Weaponised Lending’, reminded participants at a TTF Symposium this week that mis-selling has often been done “recklessly and with the wicked intent of smashing up those businesses“. TTF founder Andy Agathangelou told MoneyMarketing that he believes banks are ‘getting away with the lot’ because of their financial and lobby power.
Moving the goal, or an own-goal?
From fraud claimants’ perspective even law enforcement has, so far, moved the goal-posts away from the documents in front of them.
In its press release, the Banking Action Network alleged that the NCA has been trying to assess an even more serious charge (“collusion”) – and that this was not even alleged by the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign, which has all the documents at its disposal.
Why on earth would the cops bother with an allegation that has not been made by fraud claimants themselves? Is this hamming up the claims to discredit the campaign? If so, the complainants are having none of it.
The anti-fraud cop behind Operation Hornet
Mr Anthony Stansfeld is an ex- Police Crime Commissioner formerly behind the highly successful ‘Operation Hornet’ prosecution of bankers in HBOS Reading in the mid-2010s. As a persistent campaigner for better fraud investigation, he is familiar with some of the hundreds of pages of documents underlying Bank Signature Forgery claims. He argues that there is “irrefutable evidence” to investigate.
William May, of the Banking Action Network, told TTF Blog yesterday that in his view this “continues to be disgusting, totally biased policing.” He is not a dispassionate observer but himself a fraud claimant turned campaigner, currently facing possession proceedings.
May alleges: “The NCA first received evidence of signature forgery and the use of deliberately invalid legal documentation in July 2019. It is now two full years later and they are ‘continuing to assess’, despite having received 639 individual crime reports and 24 files of evidence”.
As an NCA spokesperson confirmed to TTF Blog on Friday: “We are continuing to assess [TTF Blog’s emphasis] the material submitted by the Bank Signature Forgery Campaign and information obtained following preliminary enquiries.”
The aim of this NCA assessment is: “to clarify matters with certain members of the public who had raised the issue. We are making a thorough assessment to determine whether there are grounds for a criminal or regulatory investigation.”
May is unimpressed by the suggestion that this might be passed to the FCA as a ‘regulatory’ matter. He argues: “If you or I were apprehended forging signatures on an industrial scale, guess what kind of charges we would be facing?”
639 un-investigated claims
Claims of bank signature forgery and invalid documentation, were given broad exposure last year by Nicholas Wilson, a former HSBC whistleblower who now campaigns for wider accountability in finance.
He distributed a short documentary about the claims online. His film features, among other figures, Steve Middleton a consultant who has supported other banking whistleblowers, alleging some staff were taught to forge signatures during their training: “They were taught it was the right thing to do, that it was in the customers’ interests…” Middleton commented.
Another allegation was previously covered by investigative journalist Ian Fraser in his book Shredded: Inside RBS — that the ‘common joke’ at Broadland Business Park that “all the best business was done at the photocopier” – that this simple method was used to duplicate signatures between documents.
Trail to the FCA
Another banking whistleblower Mark Wright – interviewed by the BBC here – has also publicly alleged that former RBS staff had carried out ‘systemic’ forgery.
He went on to tell Wilson that he alerted Andrew Bailey, then head of the FCA, to the name of an alleged trainer in signature forgeries. He alleged that Bailey refused to meet whistleblowers on that matter. Andrew Bailey is now governor of the Bank of England, but he continues to attract criticism for how he handled tip-offs and complaints in his former role.
The FCA remains under heated scrutiny from beleaguered borrowers, whistleblowers, and scam victims. We are seeing increasing pressure for the FCA’s approach to consumers to change.
Tomorrow, Transparency Task Force is hosting a Symposium on the Financial Conduct Authority and whether it should impose a ‘Duty of Care’ on financial services firms towards their customers. You can sign up here.
Press Timeline of relevant articles:
06 Feb 2021 – Fraud victims suffer enough – guarantee will help innocent overcome shame of scamming by Daniel Jones for the Sun
05 Feb 2021 – Leader: The FCA’s leaders need to step up when things go wrong by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
04 Feb 2021 – Pension scam victims say regulators should have saved them from from losing life savings, by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph
02 Feb 2021 – SMCR rules come back to bite FCA in mini-bond probe ‘rules around senior managers being held responsible for their actions have come back to bite the regulator’, by Daniela Esnerova for MoneyMarketing
02 Feb 2021 – Regulation must deliver transparency and protection for Buy Now Pay Later consumers by Alex Marsh for City A.M.
02 Feb 2021 – Bank chief Bailey ‘should be censured’ for failings by James Hurley for the Times
02 Feb 2021 – FCA criticised for trying to omit names from LCF report by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
02 Feb 2021 – Poll: Should FCA executives bear personal responsibility for the London Capital and Finance fallout? by MoneyMarketing
01 Feb 2021 – Investment funds flouting new transparency rules by Patrick Hosking for the Times
01 Feb 2021 – MPs launch full inquiry into London Capital & Finance scandal with chairman declaring it will be “thorough and clear” by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard
29 Jan 2021 – The Financial Services Bill doesn’t provide the tough regulation we need by Professor Prem Sikka for Left Foot Forward
25 Jan 2021 – FCA urges clients of collapsed British Steel firm to consider claims by Sonia Rach for MoneyMarketing
21 Jan 2021 – MPs call on FCA to ‘hold bad advisers to account’ by Laura Purkess for CityWire
21 Jan 2021 – FCA told it lacks vision to tackle consumer issues by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
18 Jan 2021 – Former Hong Kong lawmaker rejects HSBC’s explanation over frozen accounts by Reuters
18 Jan 2021 – What we learned from a bumper FCA data dump by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
18 Jan 2021 – Wall Street fears bubble from Biden stimulus as retail investing booms by Katherine Greifeld, Claire Ballentine and Vildana Hajric for Independent.ie
15 Jan 2021 – Mortgage prisoners accuse Treasury of working against them as wider FCA remit blocked by Owain Thomas for Mortgage Solutions
14 Jan 2021 – MP Vows To Keep Pushing Tougher Economic Crime Law by Richard Crump for Law360
12 Jan 2021 – Bitcoin: be prepared to lose all your money, FCA warns consumers by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
07 Jan 2021 – Regulators and police say Covid lockdowns have driven up online pension scams and demand regulation of Google, Facebook and others by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard
06 Jan 2021 – Why UK savers could fall through the cracks in Brexit regulation from the FCA by Jim Armitage for the Evening Standard
04 Jan 2021 – Bank of England fails to publish officials’ expenses by Alex Ralph for the Times
18 Dec 2020 – Executives at Financial Conduct Authority to lose bonuses over London Capital & Finance scandal by Ben Martin for the Times – Bosses at the Financial Conduct Authority will lose £205,000 in bonuses after the highly critical report on the regulator’s handling of the London Capital & Finance scandal
17 Dec 2020 – The fallout from the financial regulator’s shocking failure on LC&F is not over yet by Nils Pratley for the Guardian
17 Dec 2020 – FCA did not ‘effectively supervise’ collapsed mini-bond issuer LCF, says report by Matthew Vincent for the Financial Times “Members of the Transparency Task Force, a lobby group pushing for regulatory reform, pointed out that in his own representations to the Gloster review, Mr Bailey included a demand “to delete references to ‘responsibility’ resting with specific identified/identifiable individuals”.
17 Dec 2020 – Former Financial Conduct Authority boss Bailey apologises over handling of mini-bond scandal by Ben Martin for the Times
16 Dec 2020 – EU cannot be ‘captured’ by City of London, warns financial services chief by Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden for the Financial Times
09 Nov 2020 – Spike in personal pension cases at ombudsman by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
09 Nov 2020 – Regulator: Climate risk ‘looms even larger’ than pandemic by Avery Ellfeldt for ClimateWire (U.S.)
08 Nov 2020 – How financial services watchdog has reacted to UK consumer worries in Covid by Hilary Osborne for Guardian
08 Nov 2020 – Five predictions for banking regulation in a Biden presidency by Jon Hill for Law 360
05 Nov 2020 – Martin Lewis warns of ‘epidemic of scams’ after ICU nurse loses £8,000 by Scott Edwards for Wales Online
05 Nov 2020 –FCA bans adviser trio jailed for sex offences by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
03 Nov 2020 – ‘We haven’t received a penny’: Business interruption insurance row intensifies as owners fear payout delays, by Elizabeth Anderson for iNews
03 Nov 2020 – Aviva’s shares fiasco highlights weakness of the city watchdog by Patrick Hosking for the Times
02 Nov 2020 – Banks have done little to help the country through the pandemic, so why is the government rewarding them? by Simon Youel for the Independent
29 Oct 2020 – Calls to sack Malta financial regulator CEO by Cristian Angeloni for International Adviser
27 Oct 2020 – U.S. group urges Biden to use financial regulation to control climate change by Valerie Volcovici for Reuters
27 Oct 2020 – ‘Impact startups’ continue to raise funding during the pandemic despite difficulties faced by the wider tech startup sector by Sebastian Klovig Skelton for Computer Weekly
26 Oct 2020 – Why there must be thorough probe of claims made by Bank Signature Forgery Campaign – Greg Wright for the Yorkshire Post
26 Oct 2020 – Critics demand action over ‘flawed’ British Banking Resolution Service by James Hurley for the Times
23 Oct 2020 – Bank Signature Forgery (film) by Nicholas Wilson for Corruption UK
22 Oct 2020 – UK fraud agency suffers string of senior departures by Kate Beioley for the FT
22 Oct 2020 – Work harder to find fraud, watchdog tells auditors by James Hurley for the Times
17 Oct 2020 – MPs pursue claims bank signatures were faked on court papers by Rupert Jones for the Guardian
16 Oct 2020 – We need universal digital ad transparency now by Laura Edelson, Erika Franklin Fowler and Jason Chuang for TechCrunch
15 Oct 2020 – Rising COVID-19 Rates Send NatWest Misselling Trial To Video by Bonnie Eslinger for Law 360
15 Oct 2020 – MPs Push Agencies to Act on Forged Signature Claims by Law360
13 Oct 2020 – Mark Carney says banks should link executive pay to Paris climate goals by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
12 Oct 2020 ‘It is time to reboot the competition regime for the modern, digital age’ by David Wighton, The Times
12 Oct 2020 – Gina Miller blasts FCA complaints scheme changes ‘unfair, immoral and illegal’ by Cristian Angeloni for Portfolio Adviser
12 Oct 2020 – MPs call for input on Pension Schemes Bill by James Phillips for Professional Pensions
10 Oct 2020 – Give pension trustees power to fight scammers, say MPs by Kenza Bryan for the Times
08 Oct 2020 – Freedom to transfer pensions should be stripped where scams are suspected, industry experts urge by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph
08 Oct 2020 – Planned pensions shake-up passes first Commons hurdle by Law 360
08 Oct 2020 – WPC chairman says transfer rules ‘must be changed’ by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
07 Oct 2020 – Tech giants share blame for pension scams, MPs told by Law 360
06 Oct 2020 – FCA opens 85 cases over pension scam concerns by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
03 Oct 2020 – Record number of savers fall victim to investment fraud as scam adverts stay on Google by Andrew Ellson for The Times
11 Sep 2020 – The Hut Group facing fresh questions over governance after it reveals one of country’s best-known private equity barons to oversee pay policy by Lucy White for the Daily Mail
10 Sep 2020 London Capital and Finance investors relieved after court ruling opens route to compensation claims by Ben Chapman for the Independent
05 Sep 2020 Crime Agency under fire over bank signature forgery by Andy Verity for BBC
24 Aug 2020 – Financial Conduct Authority rushes to minimise compensation for its failings by James Hurley for The Times
04 Aug 2020 – Have your say: Will the WPC’s inquiry into the impact of pension freedoms be too overshadowed by Covid-19 impacts? by Professional Pensions
03 Aug 2020 – ‘“I’m 39, have lost my job and am in debt – can I unlock my £18k pension?” … DON’T do it!’‘ by Steve Webb for This is Money
01 Aug 2020 – ‘I lost £2.3m after I was conned into transferring my pension’ by Jessica Beard for the Telegraph
28 Jul 2020 – MPs launch inquiry into pension scams by Tom Kelly for Daily Mail ; UK Pension Scams Under Scrutiny After 2015 Relaxation in Rules by Reuters & MPs launch wide-ranging pension scams probe by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
24 Jul 2020 – US business groups seek steps to stamp out online fraud by Leonie Barrie for Just Style
22 Jul 2020 – Pension scams increase amid lockdown by Sophie Smith for Pensions Age & Missed Opportunity to Use Victims in Scam Work by Amy Austin for FT Adviser
21 Jul 2020 Londongrad Calling: Is Europe’s Laundromat the ‘New Normal’? by Mark Conrad
20 Jul 2020 Campaigners Aim to Create Pension Scam Database by Michael Klimes & Government eyes unauthorised firms by Justin Cash for MoneyMarketing
17 Jul 2020 – Year ‘dominated’ by FCA shortcomings as 205 complaints made, by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
29 Jun 2020 – MPs Pushed to Launch Pension Scam Inquiry by Amy Austin for FT Adviser & Lawmakers Urged To Open Inquiry Into Pension Scams by Martin Croucher for Law 360
11 Jun 2020 – Blackmore minibond investors get just £5m back by Ben Martin for the Times
11 May 2020 – FCA urged to build public trust in independent reviews by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
30 Apr 2020 – FCA was warned three years ago about mini-bond firm Blackmore Bond, which collapsed with £45m of savers’ money by Ben Chapman for the Independent
15 Apr 2020 – Met police lose two thirds of finance officers as fraud soars by Ben Ellery for the Times
25 Mar 2020 – Care Home Wants NatWest Docs in Misselling Fight by Law360
20 Mar 2020 – Connaught review delayed as Covid-19 concerns loom by Rachel Mortimer in FT Adviser
07 Jan 2020 – It’s time to keep your pensions promise, Boris! The PM pledged to help these victims of a huge scam FOUR years ago – and they’re still waiting by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail.
29 Dec 2019 – ‘Lambs to the slaughter – tens of thousands of savers have lost up to £10billion in rogue pensions schemes sanctioned by the government… and now the taxman is threatening VICTIMS with fines’, and ‘Making millions from other people’s misery’: A Government adviser, call centre chief and pension scheme director are among those who stand accused of involvement in pension schemes that exploited loophole in the law by Tom Kelly for the Daily Mail
03 Sep 2019 –
Chris Gordon Developer who ‘lost £1m’ takes legal action against Ulster Bank by Alan Erwin for the Belfast Telegraph
30 Aug 2019 – MPs back businessman on hunger strike at Clydesdale Bank by Kalyeena Makortoff for the Guardian
15 Aug 2019 – Victims hit by Connaught’s collapse blast City watchdog for ‘whitewashing’ independent review by Lucy White for Daily Mail
05 Aug 2019 – Plunder in paradise: The ‘adviser’ behind a Costa scam that has cost expat pensioners £25MILLION – and led one to attempt suicide by Laura Shannon for Mail on Sunday
05 Jul 2019 Government-owned bank ‘forging signatures’ in repossession cases by Andy Verity for BBC
18 Jun 2019 – “I came home to find my house had been stolen!” by Angela Ellis-Jones for the Daily Mail
20 Jun 2019 – FCA orders review of its handling of Connaught collapse by Rachel Mortimer for FT Adviser
13 Jun 2019 – Investigation into disgraced RBS small business unit branded a ‘whitewash’ by MPs by Ben Chapman for the Independent
07 Jun 2019 – Guernsey Stock Exchange disputes FCA account over Woodford by David Thorpe in FT Adviser
29 Mar 2019 – MPs call for inquiry into alleged forgery of signatures by Andy Verity for BBC
15 Feb 2017 – RBS accused of fraud & forgery by customers and ex-employee by Andrew Hosken for The World Tonight BBC Radio 4
22 Dec 2016 – Solicitors suspended for roles in collapsed Brazilian investment scheme by Nick Hilborne for Legal Futures
10 Oct 2016 – The Dash For Cash: Leaked Files Reveal RBS Systematically Crushed British Businesses For Profit by Heidi Blake, Jane Bradley, Tom Warren & Richard Holmes for Buzzfeed News