Mass marketing fraud is when you receive an uninvited contact by email, letter, phone or adverts, making false promises to con you out of money [1].

Fraudsters offer false promises of large cash prizes, goods, or services in exchange for upfront fees, or what they call taxes or donations.

Mass marketing scams are also known as consumer fraud. They could involve:

  • Someone pretending to sell something they don’t have. The fraudster takes your money without giving anything in return for it.
  • A fraudster supplying goods or services which are of a lower quality than those paid for or failing to supply the goods and service bought altogether.
  • Someone trying to persuade you to buy something you don’t really want using oppressive marketing or sales techniques [1].

The National Trading Standards Scams Team (NTS)

The National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team helps tackle mass marketing scams and disrupts the operations of perpetrators behind mail scams. It works in partnership with agencies across the country to identify and support victims of mass marketing fraud [2].

The team provides guidance, best practices and acts as a centre of excellence to assist local authorities in supporting victims and taking local enforcement action. The core aims of the NTS are:

  • Build public resilience to prevent fraud
  • Improve the resilience of lonely and socially isolated adults by increasing information sharing
  • Scam marshals: sharing experiences to help others recognise and report scams
  • Turning the reports of scams into vital intelligence to track fraudulent trends and to reduce repeat victimisation
  • Raising awareness of scams across local communities and empowering former victims to prevent further fraud

Only 5% of people report the fact that they have been defrauded so the work of the NTS Scams team is essential to investigate scams further. They obtain the lists of the people that the criminals use to target victims and this information is fed down to Local Authority Trading Standards Services.

Friends Against Scams

Friends Against Scams is a National Trading Standards Scams Team initiative, which aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams. It aims to empower people to take a stand against scams.

It is designed to inspire action, highlight the scale of the problem, change the perceptions of why people fall for scams and make scams a community, regional and national topic.

People in the community were recruited to learn about scams so that they can protect the vulnerable people around them. 807,000 friends against scams have been recruited, all receiving online training on detecting a scam.

The project aims to take away some of the shame and the stigma around being scammed by opening wider community conversations on the topic and showing victims that they are not alone.

As part of the programme, the NTS Scams Team have introduced Scam Marshals. A Scam Marshal is any resident in the UK who has been targeted by a scam and now wants to fight back and take a stand against scams. There are currently over 2000 Scam Marshals.

Scam Marshals do this by sharing their own experiences, helping others to report and recognise scams and sending any scam mail that they receive to the NTS Scams Team so that it can be utilised as evidence.

The team collects all the intelligence on personal and local scams, that has been reported by scam marshals, as well as gathering victim impact statements to build up evidence for investigations conducted by the NTS Scams Team.

Call Blocking Project

Telephone scams are a form of fraud where criminals contact people out of the blue by telephone or text message, often from a misleading or spoofed telephone number [3].

Criminals use a combination of psychological tactics such as bullying, harassment, befriending or impersonation of officials to defraud people or offer ‘too good to be true deals’ to obtain personal and financial information.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) provided funding in 2016 to the National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team for call-blocking technology to help tackle this problem.

Building on this, the Government continued its commitment to combat scam and nuisance calls by providing further funding to supply and install additional call blockers for those in need.

The team were able to identify fraudulent telephone calls that were hitting vulnerable consumers, recording them all on a database. Units were installed by engineers to gather data and this information is fed as intelligence to law enforcement counterparts around the world.

Since the start of the project:

  • 1,084 call blockers have been installed
  • Over 99% of scam and nuisance calls were blocked
  • On average, applicants were receiving 23 scam and nuisance calls a month
  • 99% of applicants felt happier they no longer receive scam or nuisance calls

Upon completion of the project, the NTS Scams Team offered recommendations for future call blocking projects.

There should be greater recognition of the impact that scam and nuisance calls have on wellbeing, regardless of whether there is an actual engagement or any financial loss.

All regular landline users are likely to benefit from call blocker technology.

Call blockers should be made available to vulnerable individuals to support them to live independently.

Final Pledge

To conclude, the NTS Scams Team have pledged that all of their projects are developed with these three factors in mind:

Prevention: We will continue to work with partners to ensure all counter-fraud work focuses on preventing fraud and scams

Awareness: We will continue to increase awareness of fraud and scams and the harm they use to victims

Vulnerability: We will continue to work towards a more flexible approach to consumer vulnerability

Victims: We will continue to improve care and support to victims of fraud and scams through multi-agency partnerships with the police and providers of adult social care

[1] Action Fraud. Mass Marketing Fraud

[2] National Trading Standards Scams Team

[3] National Trading Standards Scams Team. Call Blocking 2019-2020

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Building Public Resilience against Fraud is the job of the National Trading Standards Scams Team. This case study looks at the work of the team in supporting victims of mass marketing fraud scams.

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