A TEAM of experts has been launched to target tricky fraudsters.

An annual report for Southend Council outlined the most common forms of fraud in the last year, including in social housing, the right to buy process, council tax and the blue badge disability scheme.

Since April, the team has investigated more than 80 cases of suspected fraud in Southend.

The figures were revealed in a report published ahead of the authority’s audit committee. and could mean a further decline in cases since the launch of a joint counter-fraud initiative which tackles economic crime across Southend and Thurrock.

The report shows 84 reports of fraud have been received in Southend and 15 cases have been closed with sanctions being placed on those responsible.

Southend Council declined to comment on the precise nature of the crimes due to several cases remaining under investigation.

Council leader John Lamb said: “We take reports of fraud very seriously and as such we have a dedicated team who work meticulously to build and review cases of reported fraudulent behaviour.

“Fraud has decreased in Southend over the past three years, as the figures show, however when cases are proven to be true, we are more than prepared to take all possible action against said individuals.

“With cases still under investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further on individual cases.

“We have full belief in the accuracy of the investigations we carry out and strive to relay this information where possible.”

The Counter Fraud and Investigation Directorate was launched in 2014 and funding comes largely from Southend and Thurrock councils.

It has resulted in a yearly decline in fraudulent activities within Southend, dropping from 215 cases in 2015 to 175 in 2016 and 136 last year.

Despite the number of cases dropping, the value of the fraud has risen from £375,302 in 2016 to £687,742 in 2017.

It has had a similar impact on Thurrock Council, which has seen a drop from 264 cases in 2016 to 142 in 2017.

But the value of the crime in Thurrock is significantly higher at £4.5million in 2016 and £1.4million in 2017.

Annual reports note that that the most common forms of fraud last year involved social housing, right to buy scheme, council tax and the blue badge disability scheme.

The government’s Local Government Counter Fraud and Corruption Strategy states that fraud costs taxpayers an estimated £2.1billion each year.