County Lines in Focus: Drug Dealing Gangs Using Rental Firms to Avoid Police Detection

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The term ‘county lines’ came into public consciousness last year through media reports into this new criminal enterprise. It refers to the practice of exploiting children to traffic drugs into rural areas where dealers will use dedicated (burner) mobile phone lines, known as ‘deal lines’, to take orders from drug users. According to analysis by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), county lines are worth an estimated £500m in profit per year to criminals as they expand out of traditional urban crime zones in our largest cities.

Analysis by the NCA found that on a ‘conservative estimate’ there are at least 720 county lines across England and Wales. As a West Yorkshire-based business we’re aware of more instances of this being reported, often – and perhaps surprisingly – in some of the more affluent areas of the country, including some towns and villages right on our doorstep.

Detecting crime digitally and protecting your brand's hard-won reputation

Criminals are inherently clever. They use a combination of approaches and tools to ensure that they are not detected or caught. Recent reports have shown that they are now utilising rental cars to ferry the drugs into rural areas, and using popular apps and websites specialising in peer-to-peer flat and house rentals to deal drugs and avoid detection. This is obviously not the fault of legitimate organisations who are being exploited by these criminals. However, these organisations do need to be proactively reducing the opportunity for criminal activity, protecting their brand reputation and mitigating against any loss or damage to assets by exploring the potential of data and technology to make things harder for criminals.

We know that some organisations are doing this well, leveraging the power of data and technology holistically to reduce risk and fraud across multiple use cases. However, we also know that others could and should be doing more in this space.

Reconsidering the onboarding process as a tool to detect fraud

One of the areas organisations need to be focusing on is customer experience. In the Mobile Age a seamless, pain-free customer experience is seen as being essential to ensure that the savvy, expectant consumer doesn’t shop elsewhere. Traditionally there is a line of thought that anything added to the customer journey will impact on its design, introducing friction and potentially getting a good customer to bounce off the site. We are now, however, in the midst of a sea-change, with organisations looking at using hidden and unobtrusive technology and data solutions that can help limit friction but also identify triggers that would indicate an issue with a particular customer. Ultimately this would reduce the potential risk of onboarding a customer who isn’t seen as being legitimate i.e. should we really hire this vehicle to them or should they really be allowed to rent this property?

From our experience organisations who are embracing this approach are utilising as many data points as possible. And are doing so without it dragging down the customer experience. As they use these data points they are thinking about the following types of questions:

  • How can we interrogate digital and traditional identity attributes to quickly and robustly verify the identity of the consumer? This could include a broad range of attributes such as card presented, DOB or the digital footprint of their email address
  • What about their mobile number or the device they are using? What insight does this give us?

All these checks can be completed in a fraction of a second and the consumer journey is not impacted at all. The data fed back can be analysed and risk anomalies used to inform the right next action for the customer.

As criminals change their approach it is the role of fraud prevention professionals and consumer-facing organisations to ensure that everything can be done to reduce the window of opportunity for successful criminal enterprise. The data and technology exists to do this and this will ultimately lead to lower fraud rates, mitigating brand damage and making life as tough as possible for criminals.

Want more insight on retail fraud prevention strategies?

Download our ‘Retail Fraud Report’ to learn more about how technology, cross-team collaboration and innovation can help retailers take the fight to the fraudsters.

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