Stopping Scams by Disrupting the Behaviour of Criminals

This is a good news story from our friends in the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team. They play a pro-active role in disrupting mass marketing scams and reducing mail and telephone fraud in the UK. Their mission is to make the operating environment more ‘hostile for organised crime groups’. IPS are huge supporters of their activities and want our members to hear about their successes and ongoing battle.

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The NTS Scams Team released an excellent report in October 2020 featuring some incredible statistics on how much money they have saved the UK economy and individual citizens.  Set up in 2012 by the government in support of consumer protection, their teams offer trading standards services across the country – including leadership, influence, and resources to improve enforcement action against criminals. They identify and protect victims of fraud from further targeting.

The NTS Scams Team works in partnership with domestic and international agencies – such as law enforcement, financial institutions, mail operators and call blocker providers – to investigate and shut down mass marketing scams.

Outcomes in the UK

Since November 2016, collaboration between the NTS Scams Team and mail providers, particularly Royal Mail, has had a profound effect on the volume of fraudulent mail which reaches consumers.  Their partnership has prevented 4.73 million mail items reaching UK consumers. Recent history suggests the scammers get an 18% average response rate and harvest £25 each time. That means £21.3m of loss has been saved, because the mail didn’t reach its intended destination.


The international gangs who target UK citizens

Criminals who send fraudulent mail and make scam calls tend to avoid targeting consumers in their own country; this helps them avoid the unwanted attention of local law enforcement.

The NTS Scams Team has been working with Members of the International Mass Marketing Fraud Working Group (IMMFWG) and intelligence is shared with these enforcement agencies to increase awareness and trigger more international cooperation. The evidence they share includes detailed witness statements, physical exhibits and proof of offences committed.  It gives officers enough information to instigate enforcement action against perpetrators (or their enablers and accomplices) in their respective countries.

You will probably never have thought about all the work that goes into organising a global scam but it is a team effort and often requires a wide of different skills. The NTS Scams Team have identified enablers as:

  • Copy writers/creators of content
  • Printers
  • Fulfillment houses (to process orders and meet demand)
  • Data brokers (who supply marketing lists)
  • Post Office Box providers (who provide anonymity)
  • Mail consolidators  (international postal authorities who carry items from one country to another)

There is also a dependence on payment processors to convert foreign currency into domestic currency, before it is deposited as funds in criminal accounts. Some scammers even run airlines to fly all their cash around the world!

These enablers/accomplices are either: fully aware of the criminal activity being carried out or unaware that they are helping execute a crime.

Those who are aware of their criminal behaviour are dealt with using disruption tactics and/or enforcement actions. For those unknowingly involved, there is a robust action plan to educate them on the true nature of the activities of their ‘employers’.  If they continue to participate, they are then deemed complicit and can be charged and prosecuted with aiding and abetting the criminals.


Outcomes from the international campaign

The NTS Scams Team provided training to mail provider personnel, to help them better identify fraudulent mail and take informed decisions on whether to carry the mail.  When you add up the work on these international campaigns, the NTS Scams Team has prevented over 10 million pieces of mail from reaching UK consumers since 2016.  That equates to over £82m saved through interventions, cancelling mail contracts and investigative work and disruptions.

Unfortunately, the work goes on because criminals are adept in changing their activities. They will stop doing what was investigated and disrupted and start off in a new direction.

Their change of behaviour has been seen in:

  • Changing the outward appearance of mail so it’s no longer garish in colour with clear promotion of the contents (“you’ve won a prize”). Now they are often using plain envelopes and normal postage stamps from the country of origin. Sometimes bulk mail is freighted to the UK to avoid border checks, it is then transferred electronically and printed locally and can have UK 2nd class postage stamps affixed.
  • PO Box addresses are changed and frequently relocated within a short period of time to stay one step ahead of the authorities.
  • Scams are springing up which require victims to send cash or credit card details direct to the criminals, making it harder to track than digital payment flows.
  • Follow-up the mail delivered with a phone call to encourage their victims to part with more money – additional lottery tickets or a fee to “unlock the bigger prize”.
  • Closing down one criminal activity (once it has been discovered by the legal authorities), and quickly changing the theme of the scam and the company name in order to avoid prosecution.
  • Subscription traps like the sale of health and food supplements. Victims are enticed to sign-up for low value products, on a high-margin subscription basis giving their card details for the monthly debit.
  • Home appliance scams. Victims are telephoned and persuaded to purchase home appliance plans or service contracts. There have been many instances of victims being tricked into buying duplicate cover for the same appliances or for appliances they do not even own.

These scams can be incredibly lucrative, so criminals are constantly looking for new methods of extracting money from innocent victims. New channels and rapid pivots to new operating models makes it difficult to identify and catch the perpetrators.

Fraudulent telephone calls have greatly increased recently

The disruptive work of the NTS Scams Team has made it difficult to get fraudulent mail to potential victims in the UK.  That means the fraudsters have moved away from mail and towards the telephone where criminal activity can be disguised using ‘spoof’ numbers or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) to mask the caller’s identity.

A recent initiative has revealed the scale of the problem.  The NTS Scams Team looked at data gathered from call blocker hardware issued to consumers to see what calls are being blocked by 1,084 devices during a 6 month trial.

Ofcom suggests that the average number of nuisance calls received by the general population is 7 per month. In the trial, the true number was 23 per month. In total there were 99,000 scam or nuisance calls with 99% of them being intercepted by the hardware.  The cost benefit analysis of this exercise suggested that, with an estimated 5% of consumers usually making payments from these types of scams, £20m+ was saved  from landing in the accounts of the scammers.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown of March-June 2020, an investigation into one the top 100 blocked telephone numbers found criminals impersonating health workers and selling bogus face masks costing £29.95-£49.95.  Fortunately, this number was blocked thus saving the consumer a staggering £4.4m (at £39.99 per purchase). This money would also have gone directly to the criminals involved in this scam.

IPS Summary

The NTS Scams Team created Friends Against Scams and to date close to 700,000 ‘Friends’ have been recruited.  The total saving resulting from this scheme is just under just over £40 million. This illustrates the importance of preventative education and consistent messaging.  From grass roots to grey roots, community participation and resilience is key to successfully disrupting these criminals.
To learn more and become a friend, visit their website.

Have your say

As an IPS member, you can leave us your thoughts, comments and experiences in the commments section below

2 Responses

  1. daisy1234 says:

    I would like to know how you are topping cold calls on my phone , as I have co calls this week . Iam a member but the calls still call me.

    • IPS says:

      Hi Kay

      Your mobile number is registered with the TPS which stops cold calls (direct marketing calls). Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop nuisance/scam calls. Please do email us at with details of these call and we can advice you of the next steps.

      Kind regards

      The IPS Team

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