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Fraudemic: a quarter of UK construction companies have experienced fraudulent activity over the past year

WITH a quarter of construction companies suffering from fraud in the last year, three in five have found the quality of materials unlawfully reduced. A third of firms have fallen victim to invoice fraud, at a time when rising costs are eating into profit margins everywhere.

Further highlighting the scale and range of construction fraud, one in every five companies have been affected by falsified expense reimbursements, false billing, contractors lying about qualifications, purchase fraud or stealing tools for other projects. A fifth has also encountered bid-rigging, bribery, or another form of corruption.

The findings, collated by specialist providers of plant hire in London, Herts Tools, surveyed 39 construction companies about their experience of fraud in the industry. Although a quarter of these companies have experienced fraud in the last year, two in five didn’t report it to the police, meaning fraud is more common than authorities believe.

Just for the UK government’s ‘levelling up’ construction projects alone, it’s estimated up to £10bn a year could be lost to fraud, exposing shortfalls in regulation and fraud protections across the sector.

Stefano Lobban, director at Herts Tools, said: ‘As many other businesses will have experienced we have been victims of fraud. Fraudulent hires negatively impact our business, our staff, and our customers. We feel there’s been a noticeable increase in attempted fraud since the start of the pandemic. We’ve implemented more stringent checks and with our compliance team, we work hard to ensure we communicate with other members of the hire association, our customers, and the police and report, share, and try to prevent fraud in our industry.’

Declan Rate, ceo and partner at Forensic Procurement Partnership said: ‘The construction industry has always been vulnerable to the threat of fraud and cybercrime, particularly account diversion. This is where a company receives a notification of a change of bank account email purporting to be from a legitimate construction company, when in fact, it’s from someone attempting to defraud them.

‘Owing to the current economic crisis, fraudsters are taking more desperate measures. The substitution, removal, or simple exaggeration of materials used on a project is becoming a frequent type of construction fraud. Contractors, subcontractors, and tradesmen may utilise a particular grade or brand of material, or a specific piece of equipment, only to replace it with a less expensive one and keep the difference.

‘We recommend ‘taking 5’ prior to answering emails or entering into any transaction to ensure it’s a genuine transaction. Lack of vetting and screening could potentially cause long-term financial and reputational harm. We’d also suggest doing your due diligence when hiring anyone on a project. Check work history, and confirm qualifications and certifications. Ask yourself: Can you perform more background checks? Do they have recent references you can request?’

How to recognise the signs of fraud:

  • Scrutinise any last-minute changes to invoices or materials
  • Examine the details of expensive purchases
  • Supervise workers to make sure they have the skills and health and safety knowledge required
  • Watch out for unusual working practices, such as someone taking on a duty they wouldn’t normally perform
  • Ask your accountant to inspect your accounts
  • Beware of resistance to anti-fraud measures.

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