Criminals and trained to hone in on people who are vulnerable. Listen on to learn how you can protect the people you care about and what signs to look out for. Today’s guest is Louise Baxter. Lou graduated with a law degree and worked for Sussex Trading Standards. She took over as the chair of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's consumer power alliance and is the CTSI’s lead officer of education. She got frustrated by the system in relation to support of scam victims and started what is now the National Trading Standard Scams Teams, and she was awarded an MBE for protecting vulnerable consumers from financial abuse.“It’s all linked in together with clever marketing that all plays into the ‘too good to be true’ message that criminals are trying to get across.” - Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
- [1:10] – Lou shares her background and why she was driven to be more proactive.
- [3:05] – Her team deals with specific types of scams.
- [5:19] – If you respond to one letter scam, your details get passed around to more.
- [6:54] – There are times of mental health challenges that make you vulnerable, such as grief and high stress.
- [8:40] – There are different types of vulnerabilities and you could experience several at once.
- [10:51] – There are mental health impacts when learning that you’ve been a victim of a scam.
- [12:35] – Scams are only reported between 5 and 15% of the time.
- [14:48] – Even Louise has been affected by situational vulnerability.
- [16:01] – Louise describes the way a lottery scam increases their web of victims.
- [18:49] – What support is available for scam victims?
- [20:35] – Louise shares the types of responses her team receives when they reach out to scam victims.
- [23:00] – Situational vulnerability creates opportunity for scammers to make their message more believable.
- [25:35] – At the start of Covid-19, vulnerabilities were at an all time high.
- [27:13] – Criminals can target constantly.
- [28:38] – One million people have completed the training Louise’s company offers.
- [30:19] – As a society, we need to begin supporting victims rather than shaming them.
- [32:50] – Scams and fraud are forms of emotional abuse.
- [34:12] – Lou compares the tactics used by scammers to domestic emotional abuse.
- [35:41] – Louise explains that most criminals are not in the same country as their targets.
- [37:35] – There has been some valuable international work that’s been done, but every country operates a bit differently in their standards.
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Lou, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you for having me. It's nice to see you and hear you.
Nice to see you as well. Can you give myself and the audience a little background about who you are and what you do?
I am Louise Baxter. I have been in trading standards law enforcement for 20 years. I started what is the National Trading Standards Scams Team in 2012 because I used to come across scam victims. This was the time that I did a proper job, not management. I used to come across scam victims all the time.
Actually, what used to happen was we'd get to them too late in their journeys. They would've been scammed once, their information would have then been trafficked onto other organized crime groups, and by then they were too trapped in that cycle of victimization so it was harder for us to get proper interventions or support to them, or to get them to hear what we were saying.
I started the scams team at that point to try and do something more proactive about it and try and get to the people before they got too victimized by these criminals.
Was there a particular case that motivated you more than others?
There was one particular chap who was 92 and he was an ex-World War II gunner and he ended up getting caught up as part of the criminal entities. He ended up being used as a money mule. It didn't matter. We visited him so many times and spoke to him. It didn't matter what we did; he was too stuck in that cycle.
When we looked here, we actually found out that he'd phoned us six years before and we'd just be like, “Don’t respond to that one. That’s a scam.” It was a letter scam that he was falling for at the time and then he got into different sorts of scams. I think if we'd gone then, he might have had a different outcome.
Let's talk about this. You almost outlined a cycle of vulnerability, a cycle of scams on a specific individual. Let's start at the beginning. What are the most common scams that you're seeing today?
My team tends to deal with predominantly letter scams. It's still old school. Clairvoyance scams, lottery scams, and letters telling you that you've won money or there's inheritance coming your direction. You've just got to pay an admin fee. The clairvoyance scams are slightly more sinister in the fact that you have to pay money for a lucky talisman or something bad will befall your family.
They're generally all quite linked up as well, so you might get a lottery letter on a Monday saying, “You've won £10 million on the lottery. You’ve just got to pay a £45 admin fee.” It's a relatively small amount but you've only got seven days to respond to it or the money will go elsewhere.
You've also got to keep it secret because if you tell anyone else they might want to take your money or somebody else might have an alternative claim. Then, day three, you'll get a follow-up letter saying, “You still haven't made your claim. This money's waiting for you.” Then, day four, you might get a clairvoyance letter saying, “There's money on your cards, so send us money for this lucky talisman.” It's all linked in together. It's really clever marketing, which just plays into that too-good-to-be-true messaging that the criminals are trying to get across.
It's interesting that they're attacking on multiple fronts at the same time.
Then they'll phone you because what we often find with scam victims is it starts with sort of some sort of data mining scam where you'll be asked to provide lots of your personal information, so they'll have your phone number. They’ll have your identity numbers. They'll have your address. They’ll have all of those things. They can target you. It's like a […] movement targeting you from all different sides.
Rather than the, “Dear, Sir insert name. You have won the lottery.” It's specifically addressed to the individual with enough private information to be convincing.
Yeah, and they use your name repeatedly throughout the letter. “Oh, Louise. We know how much you need this money. Louise, we know that—because I've got two children—you've got children and family that need support. Louise, we know that you've got a mother that might need additional care,” or something like that.
If my mom listens to this—mom, I know you don't need additional care, just to be clear. I'll get told off for that. But it's that sort of information, and they hone it down. What we find is that if you respond to one letter scam, what happens is your details get sold onto other organized crime groups. Then what happens is you get bounced. You get trafficked from one group to the next group.What we find is that if you respond to one letter scam, what happens is your details get sold to other organized crime groups. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
The list—the criminals call them suckers lists—hone those lists down, and down, and down, and down. Sometimes they're getting hit rates of between 80% and 90%. They've got markers by people's names. If, for example, we find that some of the high-roller scams, like big investment scams, men might be more likely to play into those because of their propensity to gamble bigger than some women. It's just genetics in relation.
I'm generalizing; I'm not being sexist. I'm just generalizing there. What you could find is if somebody like Chris. Chris is a high roller. Chris is really interested in wine. Mark by your name. Hit him hard. High roller and get paid this month. All of this information, these are the things that he's into and then you will get sold onto other people going, “Tap him up for this. Try him for these things.” They have a lot of information about us to be able to then target us in really clever ways.They have a lot of information about us to be able to then target us in really clever ways. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
That's particularly scary that they're merging scam methodologies and information on us.
It's also like romance scams. We've known that criminals before have combed the obituaries in newspapers. I don't know whether they still run those anymore, but whether they comb them and actually target you, because again, everybody can be vulnerable to being scammed at any point. Historically, we would be like it's only old people that fall for those or old people that don't fall for those sorts of things.Everybody can be vulnerable to being scammed at any point. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
It's about situational vulnerability. Something that's going on around you can cause you to be pushed easier into a hot state by a criminal, or to make an unwise decision you wouldn't usually make because of the situation going on around you. Bereavement is one of those situations. Then once you've got the loneliness, the bereavement, the grief, the family pressure, and all of those other things that go on around you in that situation, the criminals will target you at that time.
You talk about situational vulnerability, kind of events in our lives, events that are happening around us. What other events result in that situation of vulnerability? Obviously, death of a spouse, parent, or child?
Divorce, relationship breakdown, birth of a child, or periods of mental health. The average person within the UK has four periods of mental health during the course of a year. They catch you in one of your periods of mental health and potentially you could not get the best outcome for you. If you think about situational vulnerability from anything, obviously, you might be seeing on the news, our economy isn't the greatest at the moment.
However, when they're talking about net zero and actually how we're all pushing to save energy, but also bring our emissions down as well, you're expecting people to, in a situation where there's a cost of living crisis because of the energy problems, also then move into a marketplace which is greening up your house. Solar panels, heat pumps, all of those things.
You've got situational vulnerability and marketplace vulnerability because they've never done this before. You've got double-whammy vulnerability, which means that the criminals will exploit the cost of living crisis because they know people will be stressed and panicked and trying to look for a way out and wanting things to change.
There are also a lot of government grants going on as well, which allow a criminal to be able to target you. Then you've got a marketplace, which we've got a solution for you, which will solve this. We can put solar panels on your house. We can put foam in your loft, which we are finding is completely illegal. They're using this to target these people here, which is just a storm of vulnerability at the moment from our perspective.
Then they throw in the urgency of, “We've got the solution, but it's only available for 10 homes in your neighborhood for 10 days and you need to act now.”
“The price will only be there for this amount of time, or if you don't do it, we are moving out of the area.” It's like door-knocking with the letter scan. A lot of it is, “You've got seven days to respond, and we'll give your prize to somebody else.” They target you with that situation of vulnerability and then what they do is they repeatedly target you constantly so then you don't really have time to stop and think.
Sometimes we find with scam victims because of the situations around them, there could be a cognitive decline, early onset dementia, or loneliness and social isolation. Once they keep getting repeatedly targeted, then actually get through that barrier so the criminal becomes their friend. Like romance scams as well. […] make friends with somebody, essentially develop a relationship with them. You've got to get this person to admit that their friend is stealing money from them. It's like inter familia financial abuse as well like you care […].
How do you get that person to admit that they've been scammed and then all the consequences of that? I've worked with scam victims where the penny has dropped and the mental health effects it has on those people is catastrophic, because if they really admit how much they've lost and what this means and then admit that to people, it causes a huge amount of mental health issues for people and anxiety.
It's definitely one of the things I've seen with scams, is that the scammers work really hard to isolate people and to exploit the loneliness and exploit the riffs of the families. “Don't tell your kids about this because they don't understand the relationship that we have. They don't want you to be happy. They just want your money.”
We are doing some research at the moment around the similarities between criminals and their scam victims, coerce, control, and domestic violence situation because it's that emotional abuse and it's coerce and control. It's constant all of the time. If you think the average domestic violence victim takes seven times to leave, the same is with scam victims. If you fall for a scam, you're more likely to be a repeat victim within the next three months or something like that because you get repeatedly targeted.If you think the average domestic violence victim takes seven times to leave, the same is with scam victims. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
As society and law enforcement quite a lot of the time, and not me, we blame them. “Why didn't you leave? Why did you respond to that one?” There's a lot of victim-blaming and shaming that goes on in this space as well, which doesn't allow people to feel confident to report it and to put their hand up and go, “Do you know what? I have been scammed.” I need some help with this because we victim-blame people in this space a little bit still.
What percentage of scams do you believe actually get reported?
It's between 5% and 15%.
Oh, gosh. If there are a billion dollars of scams going on, then it probably is 10 times that.
Oh yeah, absolutely. It's a tiny, tiny amount. Again, it's about resources and what support those people get when actually they say, “What's the point in reporting if you're not going to get your money back or get support?” It needs to be more collaborative. We need to work better across the public, private sector, law enforcement, and financial institutions to ensure that we're plugging all of the gaps to stop criminals infiltrating.
The peer-to-peer support from scams, in my opinion, and the education is one of the most valuable pieces of disruption to criminals but way valuable for communities. If you build that community resilience from grassroots to gray roots, you're going to stop the criminals infiltrating it. It also makes it a conversation as usual, which takes away the shame element of it. Vulnerability, we don't talk about being vulnerable because there's a shame element to that as well.If you build that community resilience from grassroots to gray roots, you're going to stop the criminals infiltrating it. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
Yeah. Vulnerability and just even discussing being vulnerable, not like in the sense of you're being taken advantage of but just talking about things you're uncomfortable with or mistakes that you've made is just not the normal human condition.
When I was getting divorced, I was particularly vulnerable. I didn't know I was vulnerable until I wasn't vulnerable. Then when I reflected I was like, “All right, wow. That was a little bit edgy.” I bought counterfeit goods because I was stressed and didn't think my kids had enough stuff for Christmas and had a lot of guilt around me and their dad spitting up.
Fortunately, my eight-year-old at the time opened them and went, “Aren't these fake? I watched those videos you told me about counterfeit goods and how to spot them. Isn't this what you do for a job?” I went, “Thank you very much for that. I really appreciate you just schooling me there.”
Once I'd finished being schooled by my educated eight-year-old, I had the wherewithal to understand how to get my money back so I could get my money back. And fortunately, it was a relatively small amount, but again, it was stress. It was panic. It was vulnerability. I wasn't aware. It was situational vulnerability, which again, is dynamic moving in and out of it. I made an unwise decision. Now, who's to say if I hadn't been contacted by somebody at the time offering me something else, I wouldn't have responded to that in the same way?
Yeah. Earlier you mentioned scam victims becoming money mules. What's the connection between those two? I usually think of money mules as being part of the criminal organization and they're just moving money around on behalf of the criminals for a cut. How do the victims of other scams get pulled into becoming mules?
What we have seen historically is that, “You've won a lottery, so I'm going to send your £1000 lottery win. But what you've actually got to do is you've got to pass that to another address for me then, actually, you'll get some money in return. Once you've moved that money on, your lottery win will come in. I'm going to send you £1000, then your lottery win is going to come in because it's part of the process. You just have to move this money for us.”
Then what you would do is you would move that money to another scam victim, scam victim would move it to another. It's a massive tangled web until somebody finally moves it out of the country. What you are expecting is you are expecting to receive your lottery win because you've done what's been requested as part of this lottery. This is how this lottery works. “You have to just move some money on for us and the addresses will always be”—so say it was Louise Baxter. It would be Louise Baxter with my address.
It wouldn't be my name. It would be my address, but it would be Lottery Limited to my address. The letter would get delivered to me, and I would think it was legitimate because it's being delivered to Lottery Limited, which just adds to the legitimacy of it.
You would also see that there might be a little bit off the top, so the criminals might allow you to keep £20 to be part of that entity, send you some free trinkets, or send you some free worthless gifts. We often see with some of the lottery scams that they might send you, like your tickets came up. You've won £4.50 or $5, or whatever it is, so that then you are like, “I'm getting something.”
It doesn't resonate either that you've probably spent £20,000 for a return of £4. It's like gambling, isn't it in a way? Gambling, I find it, it's a hard one to compare it to because I've gone to work in prevention of gambling harm before, and sometimes gambling is seen as addiction, and addictions don't get sympathy like victims.
I don't want to say it's the same as gambling because it's not an addiction like that, but there are some of the same sort of visceral stimulations in those responses to it. There's […] with it.
The same cognitive and neurological pathways are being exploited, whether it's by a person, by a platform, or by the person's own behavior.
We are talking about a £10 billion problem a year for scams in the UK. That is £10 billion that goes out of the UK economy. That's what we know about based on our estimates in relation to that. But that doesn't include the additional social costs of taking care of people when that's happened, any additional things that may cause medical problems, mental health problems, or additional care needs. We don't calculate all of that either.
All the isolation from friends and family that results from the shame and the victim-blaming and all that.
People are more likely to die. Older people are two-and-a-half times more likely to die or go into residential care once they've been defrauded in their own homes. If you came into my house and stole my purse, I would get support. If you phone me up and I give you my purse, I'm not getting the same treatment, but it's the same kind.Older people are 2 1/2 times more likely to die or go into residential care once they’ve been defrauded in their own homes. -Lou Baxter Click To Tweet
What kind of support is out there for people who have been victims of scams, and how has that kind of changed over the years?
We got lots of different partners, but specifically local trading standards partners. We proactively identify the victims using the criminals' lists that they use. As part of our investigative work, we will seize those lists so that we can then push that information down to local authorities so they can go and visit those people and say, “Look. We know, or we think you're a victim of a scam. Can we come and talk to you about how we can support you better?”
Then there are key things, like you can put a call blocker in just to block the calls to cause a barrier, some friction. You can do some work with their financial institution to ensure that their accounts are protected.
My favorite scheme is working under the Friends Against Scams banner, which is our proactive education campaign where you can do 20 minutes of online learning about scams. And then there's a call to action at the end of it, which is what you can do about this now and how you can help us.
If you've been a scam victim, you can become something called a scam marshall. Essentially, you work for us. You gather quick-time intelligence for us about what calls you're getting and what's landing on your doormat. It's like a reporting system rather than expecting people to phone a report. That means that we get sight of all the letters and of telephone calls so that we've got quick-time intelligence on what's landing so that we can then try and work proactively to look at where it's coming in.
That's interesting. When you get those lists of scam targets or the host lists, do most of those people, when they're told, “Hey, we think you've been scammed.” Are they defensive about it in terms of like, “Oh, no. That's my new friend”? Or are they generally like, “Oh my gosh. I didn't know that”?
It's a mix. What you often find is people will go, “No, I don't respond to those sort of things.” And we'll go, “We know that you do.” It gets you across the threshold to have those difficult conversations but quite often you get denial. You do get quite a lot of denial or you get, “I did respond” or, “Don't anymore.” You sometimes get some fibbing and some lies around stuff about people continually responding.
It's about empathy and sympathy to make it all right for people to talk about it so that you can then provide that support. It's got to be inclusive. It's got to be an inclusive service so that they feel that they're in control of their own destiny, that you are not going to take over something. It's about what's best for each victim. We can't help everybody because some people are too entrenched, which is what I find difficult.
There's one story—if people have been listening to the podcast have probably heard me tell before—of a woman who was befriended by guys supposedly in the US Military working in the Middle East. They go on leave to the UK. Lo and behold, they win the lottery while they're there.
Of course, US military servicemen on active duty can't participate in the lottery, so they want to send the money to her. Of course, she starts paying out the transfer fees and all this stuff. She ends up losing her house over it and these guys just disappear.
In my discussion with her, she knew that, “OK, I've been scammed.” But she was still worried that these guys maybe got killed in battle. She wasn't able to separate the fact that they had scammed her with the fact that they weren't really in the military. It was just very sad.
I watched a TV program the other day about a lady who was recently bereaved and she'd been given a payout by her husband's work. Then she'd been approached on a social media platform where again, it was an ex-military and what they'd done is they catfished and used different photos.
He told her a story that he needed help for his daughter, in an operation for his daughter. She sent him £80,000. It was only when he asked her to sell her house and remortgage her house that she started to tweak. She also got approached by what she thought was a celebrity asking to donate money to charity again on social media. I think in total she ended up losing over £400,000.
It’s that situational vulnerability. They got her right at that time when she was recently bereaved—situational vulnerability—and having the inheritance. There are not many times in our life where we're going to come into a huge amount of money. And actually, coming into that huge amount of money can make you situationally vulnerable because you've never been in that situation before so it's a new situation for you, which instantly makes you potentially vulnerable.
She got targeted by two different approaches and she was on the telly and she's very brave for sharing her story, but completely devastated. She just kept going, “I just feel so stupid.” I was like, “God, there are so many people that have fallen for different scams all of the time without probably realizing.” Especially romance scams are really tricky when you are lonely as well. When people are lonely or socially isolated, they are the nastiest types. I think they're some of the nastiest ones when people are recently bereaved and then looking for love or company.
Do you find when these teams are going out to talk to people in person that they think the team coming out to visit them is another scammer? I've definitely seen the scammers switch tactics if they've gotten some money out of the person and the person just realized that it's a scam, and now they're part of the scam recovery team and trying to re-victimize them by pretending to be helping them out.
“We'll get your money back from the scam,” and they're part of the scam that's trying to do all those things. Yeah, we do see that. We also see that sometimes the criminals will try to stop you from getting your money. They're the baddies. They're trying to steal your money. We see quite a lot of impersonation scams as well. We will go knock on the door and speak to a victim. You could get a criminal doing the same pretending to be one of us.
They can diversify so quickly. If you think with COVID and the coronavirus, when we first went into lockdown over here, within the first month of lockdown, 88,000 new websites sprung up. That was a statistic I got told.
We don't know if those websites are legally compliant. We don't know what's on those websites. We also know that people were targeting older, socially isolated people with £45 worth of fake PPE and hand sanitizers that never arrived.
They were making something like 120,000 calls a week or something ridiculous. Preying on people's vulnerabilities and offering things like driveway cleansing services. “There's COVID on your driveway. We will cleanse your driveway.” Or, “There's COVID in your house. You go upstairs,” and then they will burglarize the house like a distraction burglary to do those things. Offering shopping services, miracle cures, and antidotes.
If you are home on your own, you don't have anyone to ask, “What do you think about that? What do you reckon? Do you reckon that's too good to be true? Does that sound like a good deal?” Even from day-to-day conversation and loneliness, social isolation is the equivalent to your physical health of smoking 15 cigarettes a day so you have the knock-on physical effects as well. We still obviously got COVID here, but we've moved out of the lockdown situations into a war and into a cost-of-living crisis, which is just the criminals diversifying far quicker than any of us do.
That's the challenge. As soon as there is something going on in the news, some criminal enterprise has already figured out how to exploit that and take advantage of people.
The opportunities around things like you'll do impersonation scams, you'll do a tax rebate, you'll do a council tax rebate. We have had a council tax rebate because of the cost of living, but it's automatically put into your bank account or however you paid it.
For older people that might not do it via bank transfer, they might do it by going in somewhere and paying it. They have to physically go in there to then get their refund, which is allowing the criminal to just target constantly with, “You’re entitled to this money back. All you've got to do is click this link, phone this number.”
Again, from a bit of a consequence of lockdown and COVID, we expected everybody to go from bricks to clicks in a day. You're going into lockdown tomorrow, you're not going to the shops anymore. Learn to use the internet with no training on how to do that safely.
It's just a hotbed for criminal diversification. It really is, which is why these sorts of things, the podcasts and the education messages, are so key to ensuring that we can provide that resilience at a local level.
Do you think that the campaigns in terms of education are helping?
I do. I will say that because it's our campaign, but we've recruited a million friends, so we've done a million people. We launched in October 2016, so we've trained a million people who've done our online training or it was face-to-face training before. It's such a complex marketplace.
Whereas we were finding that scam messages weren't landing because there were too many messages out there. You could get one message from your bank, one message from the police, one message from a different organization. We tried to sort of switch it around. How do we make it relevant to you when actually you've got a whole world of things going on and you're not going to be a scam victim, so why do you need to learn about it? Why would you need to learn?
What we do is I would train you on how you identify someone you love that might be being targeted: your mom, your dad, your neighbor, relatives, or anybody. What are the signs that they could be being targeted by these criminal groups and how do you essentially protect them from that happening to them, which everybody has somebody they care about.
That then allows us to provide the training. You get vicarious learning then because you're learning about how to protect your mom. Then at the end, you've got this social responsibility. You've got this knowledge now. What can you do about it? Share your status on social media, become a scam champion. We give you the training package for free and you can go and train other people from a Friends Against Scams perspective.
If you're a senior, you can become a scam ambassador. You can see what we do on Friday afternoons in the office. It's just about that call to action. Let's deal with this together. Let's try and support and actually take away the shame element, get people talking about the scams, and all the different scams because of that peer-to-peer support. If an older person goes that, “I've been scammed,” it gives permission for some other older people to go, “So have I. So have I been scammed as well,” because they won't feel as silly if they are alone.
It's like an antenatal class when you have a baby. When I found other moms being like, “This isn't very nice. You're my moms.” The moms are like, “This is one of the most amazing experiences.” I was like, “I don't feel like that.” It's that sort of permission to talk about certain subjects, which is what we find so invaluable with scams is that peer-to-peer cascade of messages.
One of my guests was a victim of a romance scam and so she started an organization where she talks about her experience. She says afterward, dozens of people will come up to her and say, “I haven't told anybody, but I was a victim of a romance scam.” It's like you said, it gives people permission to talk about it and permission to get help.
Romance comes with a double whammy because you lose money and somebody that you loved and thought loved you back. You've got a relationship breakdown and financial loss.
Those almost always break down relationships with the target's family as well because the whole key from the scammer's perspective, “If I can separate them from the person who's going to warn them or be a sounding board and they have no sounding board,” then the scammer can now become the sounding board. And they don't have that outlet to say, if you're talking with your girlfriend, “Hey, gosh, that seems odd that he's telling you he loves you after three minutes.”
It's almost like when you're a teenage girl and your dad goes, “You're not dating him.” It makes you want to date him more. It's that sort of scenario as well. Then when they turn out to not be particularly nice and you're like, “Dad, you were right.” You never go, “Dad, you are right.” You pretend it hasn't happened. It's what we call coerce and control. It's emotional abuse. It is.
With the whole scams agenda—scams is the wrong word. It's fraud. From a perception point of view, people don't understand the word. Fraud is a very broad term. It’s not specific, and people don't understand what it means.
The language we use is wrong. We trivialize it. Old people don't fall for that. It's old people. Oh, it's a trick. It's not a trick. It's a criminal offense where people are being deliberately targeted, groomed, and then their information is being trafficked from one criminal group to the next. It's coerce and control and emotional abusive behavior. We need to ramp it up to make it more serious so that we can get more resources but more public support to ensure that we are talking about it.
It's interesting that you made the comparison with domestic violence and it really changes the framing of how you look at the target. If you think of it as this is more like domestic violence than someone getting something out of their wallet or something like that.
The world is becoming more aware too. When you talk about domestic abuse now, it's not just about being punched, kicked, or physically hurt. It's about gaslighting, that emotional abuse part of things, and that emotional control that people have. That comes under sort of legislation in regards to domestic abuse because it's just as harmful as physical abuse in those spaces.
Those are the tactics that the criminals use to ensure that they get the victims to do what they want them to do. Unless it's a doorstep criminal, they're never physically in the room. They're on the telephone or they're in a letter.
Do you find that most of the scammers are domestic in the UK or outside?
Outside. The ones I deal with are outside the UK. They wouldn't be in the UK if I knew about them.
I assume that makes it much more difficult to catch them and prosecute them if you have to start working with other governments that maybe don't consider it as big of a crime as you do.
We have some really good relationships with our counterparts in lots of different countries. We work quite closely with the Federal Trade Commission. […] and the Americans are very good, and we have an international liaison where we ensure that we share best practice and actually try to work.
If we can all take our parts in it, it tends to work quite well. What you'll often find is we believe that criminals, 99.9% are coming from abroad for us. They will target the UK, but then there won't be victims on their own patch because those victims won't then report. They're not going to report it to UK systems.
UK residents aren't going to report it to, say, Tasmanian systems, are they? They're not going to phone the Tasmanian action fraud line and go, “I need to report this,” so it keeps it under the radar slightly more. Then what you often find is that the prosecuting country might not have the victims, the victim impact statements, or the information to be able to make that effective prosecution.
We work all much more effectively together where we can package and provide that support to each other to ensure that just because it's not in our domestic field, we can still do something about it. Sharing what works and what doesn't work is really quite effective. It's probably one of the most effective bits of work we do.
In a way, with internet crimes, it's such a shift from a legal stance of someone came to your doorstep and did something. “OK, the local law enforcement can handle it or federal law enforcement can handle it.” When it starts becoming different countries, the complexity of prosecuting gets increased.
I guess the US, UK, and Canada will always work well together on these sorts of things, but like you said, let's use Tasmania. It might take a little bit more time to get them on board and provide assistance in helping them to be able to prosecute when the victim wasn't in their own country.
Also, the complexity of the internal system. Like I've said, if you're talking and we've got 10 different messages because there are 10 different departments within one nation doing the same job or bits of the same job, if you know what I mean. Bits of a pizza pie, aren't they? We're all doing a bit of it.
Who do you work with? Again, if we're all on the same page with relation to messaging and continuing to talk about it and working as best we can in the space, we've had some really effective work that we've done internationally to identify stuff and we get a lot of our intel that way. Then we just got to keep doing the best that we can in space.
If people want to learn more about Friends Against Scams and want to go through the training program, where can they find that training program?
They can find that on friendsagainstscams.org.uk and there's an online link. They can watch a 10-minute video or they can do the interactive training, which takes about 20 minutes. There are loads of resources on the website for people, and if they want the training material, all they need to do is just log into the Scam Champion section and then all of the training materials on there are free for people to access.
While the program is being run out of the UK, you don't mind if people from all over the world go through the training?
No, not at all. Absolutely not. International Friends Against Scams, that would be brilliant. We'll hit the two million, which will be amazing.
Let me go out and register that right now. I super appreciate the work that you're doing. I love that people are starting to take online scams much more seriously and looking to help and prevent, not just wag our fingers at the poor people that have been targeted. Are there any other resources, or if people want to connect with you, how can they find you?
I'm on LinkedIn if people want to connect with me on that. Again, Friends Against Scams. If you want to email me or email any of the team, they can email through the website.
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Thank you for having me. It's been lots of fun.