Midland companies were hit by record levels of fraud last year with losses soaring nearly threefold, a survey shows today.
Criminals working from the outside together with dishonest employees stripped businesses in the region of £147.2 million in 2005 compared with £49.4 million the year before, KPMG has calculated.
According to the firm's annual Fraud Barometer, it wasn't only the value of the losses that rose. The number of major fraud cases involving losses of more than £100,000 rose by nearly a third to 36 during the year.
One of the most significant cases in the region was a £58 million carousel VAT fraud involving mobile phones.
The study recorded a national total of 222 cases reaching court over the course of 2005, up from 174 cases in 2004. The total value of fraud also rose significantly from £329 million in 2004 to over £900 million in 2005.
Nationally, the Government remains the main victim of fraud (£447 million), largely through attempts at tax evasion, VAT and benefits fraud.
But fraud against financial institutions - card fraud, identity fraud, false cheques - rose dramatically from £37 million in 2004 to £360 million.
A little under half of fraud was carried out by professional gangs (£420 million), but even more was the result of "insider" fraud by managers or comp any employees (£468 million).
Charlie Patrick, director of KPMG Forensic in Birmingham, said: "There has been a worrying boom in fraud in recent months, although the good news is that we know this because the fraudsters are being successfully brought to book.
"Criminal gangs appear to be very active with aggressive stings, while in the private sphere internal frauds to fund excessive lifestyles or to pay off burgeoning debts shows no sign of abating.
"With both the number and the average value of frauds increasing, companies and individuals need to be more watchful than ever."
Last year was notable for the number of VAT fraud prosecutions involving high cost items such as mobile phones and computer chips with two of the biggest cases worth nearly £100 million between them.
KPMG said identity fraud continued to be rife as criminals sought ways around the tighter controls introduced by such measures as chip and PIN.
Nearly £200,000 was stolen from 160 people who were fooled by a bogus eBay auction site.
In another internet scam, a man pretending to be an official internet registrar "sold" businesses and individuals fake internet domain names and addresses to the tune of £1.5 million - all from the comfort of his own bedroom.
Other ID frauds were even bizarre - such as the ex-horseshoe fitter who posed as a pioneering biochemist with a new process for making soap, who successfully swindled businesses and local authorities out of £60,000 in grants and loans.
As well as debt or greed, much individual fraud is motivated by addiction, commonly alcoholism or gambling habits.
But some are motivated by more peculiar obsessions, such as the town hall cashier in Lincolnshire who stole over £550,000 in car parking fees to fund her Elvis Presley obsession. "All too often, insider frauds are conducted over a period of months or even years without anybody noticing," said Mr Patrick.
"Companies need to review their internal controls processes where appropriate, and make more use of some of the extremely sophisticated fraud detection software packages that can help identify anomalies in data flow and email traffic that could be the possible indicators of fraud."