Because just last September, the government estimated it was £40bn pa- double the latest figure. What's more, ministers told us then that £40bn almost certainly an underestimate.
Of course, the £40bn was itself a sharply revised figure. Just two months before that, the government had come up with a number of £16bn.
In truth, they're all over the place. They haven't a clue what's happening.
When we blogged the numbers last year, we pointed out that one leading law firm puts the number at £70bn plus.
And we made two points that are worth reiterating:
a) The biggest losers are we taxpayers. Government incompetence and lack of proper financial control mean that we lose billions. The latest numbers put our losses at c£12bn pa- ie more than half the total- but last year they said £14bn. And that was before they'd latched onto the ballooning losses from VAT Carousel fraud. The latter may have subsided a little, but our guess is that £14bn remains a conservative estimate.
b) If we're going to grip this, penalties must be much tougher. According to research by Stoy Hayward, the average sentence for fraud in 2004 was just 2.4 years. Which means the actual prison term averages a derisory 14 months. And that's despite the fact, as Stoy Hayward note, that "greed, not hardship is driving fraud in the UK - our statistics show that wherever a motive was reported, an overwhelming 60 per cent of cases were motivated by the desire for a more lavish lifestyle." Cost effective criminal justice demands much, much harsher sentences.