Canada needs a national strategy to combat financial fraud, including a centralized system to collect data on fraud complaints and investigations, according to new report by investor advocacy group FAIR Canada.
The study released Monday says numerous police forces and securities regulators in Canada share overlapping responsibility for investigating fraud cases, but there is no national co-ordination to ensure the system is working efficiently.
It is impossible to figure out how many fraud cases are investigated each year, how much money is lost to financial fraud, and whether investigators are targeting the right areas where the problems are most significant, the report said. Provincial securities commissions publish different data about fraud cases they handle, while police forces appear to provide no statistics about fraud.
"It is difficult if not impossible to get an accurate measure of the prevalence of investment fraud in Canada and the associated harm to Canadian investors," the report said.
FAIR legal counsel Lindsay Speed said better national data about financial fraud would help regulators decide where to target their actions, and would help alert the public about fraud risks.
"Knowing how much fraud is going on our there would really bring attention to the issue," she said in an interview. "The fact there's no measure that gets attention and is publicly available means it doesn't really resonate with investors that there is a significant amount [of fraud] that seems to be going on in the markets."
Ms. Speed said there are a lot of resources to inform investors about fraud, but not all used. For example, investors can check the registration status of financial advisers, but most people don't know where to get the information.
FAIR has previously advocated for a national fraud agency to centralize reporting and enforcement as a way of improving co-ordination. Ms. Speed said more centralization would help ensure cases don't fall between the cracks when police forces can't tackle complex financial investigations.
The report also urges regulators to compile more data on the prevalence of fraud in the so-called exempt market, where shares can be sold to wealthy and sophisticated investors without the need to provide prospectuses approved by regulators. FAIR said it is concerned the exempt market is increasing becoming a gateway to fraud because it is a largely unregulated market, but said more data is needed to assess the risk.
The FAIR report was released Monday at the same time the Ontario Securities Commission published its annual report for last year, showing the progress so far of the regulator's new Joint Serious Offences Team, which was created in 2013 to tackle fraud investigations in co-operation with the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police. The JSOT unit launched 14 investigations and laid quasi-criminal charges in provincial court in four cases between May last year and March 31 this year, the report said.
The OSC's annual report also showed the commission posted a small operating surplus of $1.2-million in fiscal 2014, ended March 31, after recording losses of $7.8-million in 2013 and $4.7-million in 2012. Revenue increased by 13 per cent last year to $98.4-million due to new higher fee rates that came into effect in 2013.