The National Crime Agency has identified at least 181,000 people involved in serious and organised crime in the UK, which is more than twice the size of the regular British Army.
A victim of modern slavery may have called at your door recently, because organised gangs are sending their slaves to carry out botched home repairs. There are many cautionary tales which show that consumers must not be scared to ask hard questions if the price seems too good to be true.
Research from National Trading Standards found that these gangs frequently target vulnerable young men from deprived areas, who may be unemployed, homeless people or immigrants, to carry out substandard house ‘improvements’ and unnecessary repairs on people’s properties.
The true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK is unknown. However, potential victims identified through the National Crime Agency’s National Referral Mechanism have increased by 36 per cent, from 5,142 in 2017 to 6,993 in 2018.
Financial losses from fraud soared by 32 per cent between April and September 2018, and the use of modern slavery is increasingly being seen by trading standards officers investigating crimes against householders and consumers. Shoddy and sometimes dangerously unsafe maintenance and improvement work is carried out by enslaved labourers while unsuspecting householders are bullied into paying hugely inflated prices, often losing their life savings in the process.
“The doorstep scammer is not a lovable rogue,’ said Lord Toby Harris, the chairman of National Trading Standards. “Often behind the person who turns up at your door offering cut-price services is a serious criminal. Not only are they happy to rip off older people, those living on their own, and indeed anyone who is taken in by their patter, but they may also be exploiting and even enslaving vulnerable people to help them carry out their crimes.
“Consumers need to be vigilant to old scams wrapped in 21st century packaging and to ruthless criminals who will stop at nothing in pursuit of ill-gotten riches. The international nature of organised crime means trading standards officers must work closely with domestic and international partners to disrupt these operations.
“Most importantly, we urge communities to be vigilant and report any suspected scams to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06.”
The National Crime Agency leads on serious and organised crime within the UK, but many issues linked to modern slavery are straying into the trading standards world.
Adam Thompson, head of the NCA’s Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Unit, said: “The types of labour exploitation referenced in this report are often hidden in plain sight, and we need the public to recognise the signs and report their suspicions.
“Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, and have few or no personal effects.”
Car washes, construction and agriculture are the sectors in which labour exploitation is most often uncovered, with victims predominantly male.
In October 2018, six members of a family-run organised crime group and two landlords were jailed for modern slavery offences. The family originated from Kosice in southeast Slovakia.
Over multiple years, they trafficked individuals and families from Kosice to Leeds, either promising them a better life or threatening them into travelling to the UK. The victims were mainly Roma families and single vulnerable males living in poverty or with substance dependency issues. The offenders paid for the victims’ travel, arranging accommodation and work at a Leeds-based construction company owned by two of the defendants.
Victims were forced to work ten hours a day, six days a week, for as little as £5 per day. One individual was paid just £3,000 for three years of work.
So the next time, gaunt, agitated people appear on your doorstep, offering to carry out work at incredibly low prices, you might well be looking modern slavery in the eye.