Benefit fraudster councillor staying in post

Embargoed to 0001 Thursday December 12File photo dated 18/03/13 of money as the UK downturn is finally expected to be left behind next year as the size of the economy surpasses its pre-recession peak, according to a new forecast upgrading prospects for growth. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday December 12, 2013. The prediction from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) brings forward the likely date to the third quarter of 2014. It would mark the first time that UK gross domestic product (GDP) has climbed back to the peak it reached in the first quarter of 2008. See PA story ECONOMY GDP. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%A former mayor handed a suspended prison sentence for committing benefit fraud against his own council has been allowed to keep his position.

Mid Devon District Council has no legal power to remove councillor Kevin Wilson, 55, from his post representing Cranmore Ward in Tiverton.
Mr Wilson received a 10-week suspended sentence with 200 hours of community service at Exeter Crown Court for committing benefit fraud against the authority.

Councillors are only automatically disqualified from their position if they receive a sentence totalling 13 weeks or longer.

Colleagues of Mr Wilson, of Besley Close, Tiverton - who continues to serve as an independent councillor and receive his allowance - have called for his "immediate resignation".

A spokesman for Mid Devon District Council confirmed: "The Council wishes to make it clear that legally it has no power to remove this councillor from office. This is because the Government abolished the previous national disciplinary system for councils as part of the Localism Act 2011, which would have enabled us to take action.

"Councillor Kevin Wilson, who represents Cranmore Ward in Tiverton, committed benefit fraud, lied about it repeatedly to officers investigating the matter to try and cover it up, and only admitted guilt when the case finally came to court and evidence was produced to prove the dishonesty.

"Councillor Wilson has indicated that he does not intend to resign."

Kevin Finan, chief executive of Mid Devon District Council, said the matter would be considered at a full council meeting next Wednesday.

"Had this been a member of staff, we would have suspended them when the allegations were first made and sacked them on the spot when found guilty," Mr Finan said.

"Unfortunately, due to changes in the law, we are prevented from applying the same standards to our elected members.

"The matter will however be considered at the full council meeting on Wednesday 26 February when councillors will vote on a motion condemning Councillor Wilson and calling for his immediate resignation."

Mr Finan said members of the public were welcome to attend the meeting.

The chief executive said claims had been made that the council had made "legal attempts to utterly destroy" Mr Wilson, the former mayor of Tiverton.

"The council has a legal duty to take action where we find fraudulent and criminal behaviour, in this instance one of our councillors," Mr Finan said.

"I believe in these circumstances, any reasonable person would conclude that any damage to his reputation is entirely his own doing. One can only imagine the outcry from the media and the general public were we to have turned a blind eye to the deceit, benefit fraud and dishonesty, just because it was being carried out by one of our own elected members, who should know better and from whom the public are entitled to expect a higher level of honesty and integrity."

Wilson told the Press Association he did not wish to comment on the situation.

Des Hannon, Devon county councillor for Tiverton East, backed his colleague but would not "justify his crime".

Mr Hannon said Wilson had dealt with "his own personal Greek tragedy" of divorce and depression and "told lies in his panic".

"The judge handed down a short sentence because he intended it would not disbar Kevin from being a councillor," Mr Hannon said.

"That's really unusual. The judge knew all the facts and I think the council is entirely out of order to go against the intention of an English court. Kevin's already being punished by the law.

"Why is the council pursuing this with such extremely expensive vigour when the court has spoken? That's our money."

The biggest scams of 2013
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Benefit fraudster councillor staying in post
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.

They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.

This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.

This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.

This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.

The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.

As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.

The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.

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