Review of the National Trading Standards Scams Team
Mass marketing fraud (MMF) is broadly defined as a misleading or deceptive business practice in which uninvited contact and false promises are used to con people out of money. These could include lottery and prize draw scams, inheritance scams, get-rich-quick schemes and the selling of bogus products and services. Relatively inexpensive modes of communications, such as the Internet, telephone and direct mail, have transformed MMF activities in the UK and worldwide.
National Trading Standards (NTS) established a Scams Team in 2012, initially as a pilot, hosted by East Sussex County Council Trading Standards. It was developed out of a desire to deal more effectively with MMF on a local, regional and national level, and to support victims. The Scams Team’s activities are guided by five objectives:
- To identify victims of fraud
- To intervene and protect victims from further victimisation
- To investigate criminal activity
- To inform local authorities and agencies on how to work with and support scam victims
- To influence people at local, regional and national levels to take a stand against scams
During 2015 and 2016, NTS commissioned RAND Europe to undertake an independent review of the Scams Team to help inform its future development, delivery and effectiveness. The review included:
- An assessment of the Scams Team in its current form
- Recommendations for service improvements and future provision in the context of the Consumer Landscape Reforms, building on ideas generated by delivery partners
- Recommendations for existing measures and measure of consumer detriment
The project team used four main sources to carry out the review:
- A review of academic and grey literature
- Interviews with partners, local authorities, Scams Team and NTS members
- A survey of all 200 local Trading Standards Services
- A review of documents and data provided by the Scams Team and NTS, which included data on 30,000 UK victims of MMF
In addition, the researchers also held a ‘Theory of Change’ workshop with staff from the Scams Team, to examine how the Team's activities are expected to lead to the overall objectives, also to examine the Team’s current methodology for measuring consumer detriment and savings.
- Based on the analysis of data on 30,000 UK victims of MMF, it was found that these victims lost, on average, £6,744 to scams over their lifetime. The amount lost varied across victims, with the majority losing around £100 to £500; however, one per cent were found to lose more than £100,000.
- Older people tended to be the most prominent victims of MMF; however, no particular group should be isolated or ignored as potential victims. MMF was found to affect all members of society regardless of their age, class, occupation, socio-economic background, race or gender.
- Many perpetrators of MMF are based outside the UK, making it a truly global issue. In addition, these perpetrators are often linked to international organised crime, as they are selling MMF models internationally and also involved in other types of crime.
- There is clear evidence that the work of the Scams Team has helped to identify more victims of MMF and, through interventions with local Trading Standard Services, has helped to reduce the impact of MMF on these victims.
- The Scams Team has facilitated a coordinated national approach to tackling MMF in the UK, while also introducing a variety of innovative approaches and pilot projects.
- Based on the evidence available, the Scams Team appears to be delivering significant value for money. Through its work, it was estimated that the Team is saving £27 per £1 invested. Even when only taking into account the savings that the Scams Team is able to identify with a high degree of precision, these are still high – £12 per £1 invested over three years.
As part of the study, RAND Europe developed a number of policy recommendations, which could help the Scams Team manage and make further reductions in MMF in the UK.
- Introduce legislation which prevents companies from illegal information sharing. This information is often used to target the victims of MMF.
- Give more status to MMF as an organised crime, so the respective police and crime agencies see it as a higher priority issue and therefore dedicate greater resources to tackling the problem.
- Increase international cooperation to help fight well-resourced and flexible private organisations and individuals with ties to international crime.
- Reveal more data on the costs incurred due to mass marketing fraud, especially local service costs, to highlight the issue as a high priority item for policymakers.