By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) last year dealt with 450 fraud complaints involving $4.5 million worth of assets, it was revealed yesterday, as it called upon Bahamians to stop viewing this as a “victimless crime”.
Detective Sergeant Ian McQueen, of the Force’s business and technology crime unit, said this perception was starting to change, with the courts handing out sentences up to 12 years long for those convicted of fraud.
Addressing a Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) seminar, Sergeant McQueen said some 330 persons were either arrested or charged with fraud-related offences in 2012.
“That’s one of the things we need to change, the community mindset when it comes to perceptions of fraud and financial crimes. A lot of people think fraud is a victimless crime,” Sergeant McQueen added.
Despite some $4.5 million in funds and assets being involved in fraud-related cases investigated by the Force last year, the officer said Bahamian companies all too-often allowed dishonest employees to pay back what they had stolen rather than go to court.
This was often to avoid embarrassment or reputational damage on the company’s part, but Sergeant McQueen said this allowed dishonest workers to effectively ‘bounce around’ from employer to employer, committing the same offences wherever they went.
He added that even the “courts entertain them”, explaining: “You see the courts allowing them to make payment plans to put it back. The perception of fraud has to change if we are to make a dent and stop fraud occurring.”
Sergeant McQueen also warned that defence attorneys frequently sought adjournments as a ‘delaying tactic’ in the court system, hoping it would frustrate complainants and witnesses from either pursuing the action or turning up to testify.
He was responding to a BICA member, who said that she turned up to court four times for a particular fraud-related case, only to see it constantly postponed. “The court system is so questionable that it becomes more of a burden than the right thing to do,” the accountant said.
Noting that more Supreme Court judges were on the way, Sergeant McQueen said: “Just keep in mind it’s a tactic that they use.
“It is a tactic that the attorneys use in the hope of frustrating the case, and stopping you from coming.”
Challenging views of fraud-related matters, Sergeant McQueen said it was often either fellow employees or the consumer that paid for ‘white collar crime’, in the latter’s case usually through higher prices for goods and services.
Acknowledging that employees were “very creative” when it came to stealing funds or inventory from employers, he added that the pillaging of so-called ‘dormant accounts’ was a particular problem for Bahamian banks.
And allowing the person who issues company cheques to also reconcile them was described as “a recipe for disaster”.
Apart from counterfeit currency and cheques, Sergeant McQueen said forged credit cards were another matter his unit dealt with regularly. While Bahamian criminals were using counterfeit cards to obtain cash advances, he added that foreigners were coming to downtown Nassau and targeting expensive jewellery items and other luxury goods that could be taken home for resale in their home countries.
And Sergeant McQueen noted that there were several “scams going on right through the Bahamas now”. One was effectively an ‘advance fee’ type fraud, responding to a vehicle ‘advertisement for sale’ in the local media.
Detailing how this worked, Sergeant McQueen said when the number attached to the advertisement was called, the person who answered said the subject auto had already been sold.
However, promising they were in south Florida looking at other vehicles to bring back to the Bahamas for sale, the ‘vendor’ then requested the caller to deposit 50 per cent of the purchase price into their bank account. The other 50 per cent is to be paid upon completion.
“It sounds good,” Sergeant McQueen said. “You deposit your money, let them have half now and sure enough, you never here from them again. A lot of people are falling for this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
And he indicated that this scam’s perpetrators were laundering their money, and concealing their identities, via another advertisement ‘scam’.
This involved ‘Help Wanted’ ads, where the person placing them wants someone to run errands such as depositing money into an account and paying utility bills.
“It sounds like good employment for a person not working; they think it’s a real job,” Sergeant McQueen said, with callers told money will be sent to their account for disbursement, and they will be allowed to keep a small percentage.
“The reality is those funds coming to your account came from someone else who fell for a scam,” Sergeant McQueen said.
He added that police were also dealing with a growing trend of identity theft, where criminals took over a person’s e-mail account and accessed their bank information, before requesting that funds be wired to an offshore account.
“We’ve seen quite a number of cases in the last year or so,” the officer added, noting that the offshore wire destination was usually Singapore or somewhere else in Asia.
The nationalization process, and method of obtaining a Bahamian passport, was also fraught with “serious problems” and open for abuse,” Sergeant McQueen warned.
“Bahamians don’t want to do the right thing,” he added. “Rather than go to the Road Traffic Department and pay $100 for a driver’s licence, they’ll go to someone on the side of the street.”