Topics for this month:

Energy Bills phishing scam

With the cost-of-living crisis being at the forefront of a lot of minds, we have been made aware of a phishing scam that is currently doing the rounds. Potential victims are contacted by a scammer posing as ‘UK Help’ or GOVUK (multiple variations have been found) claiming to be from the official UK government. This is usually done via messaging service like iMessage.

The scam text will say something like ‘you are eligible for a discounted energy bill under the Energy Bills Support Scheme’ and provides a link for you to apply.

By clicking on the link, you are taken to a landing page that appears to be a legitimate UK Gov website – it is a clone of the official website.

You are then instructed to insert your full name, phone number, date of birth, home address, and email address which they claim will help “determine how much you are eligible for.”

The following page will ask for your energy supplier as well as your card number, expiry date, and ‘security’ code.

The end game for these scammers is to access your banking and/or private information, which they can use for their own financial gain. The details this scam asks you to provide could all be used to impersonate you and access to your accounts.

A similar scam that impersonates energy watchdog Ofgem has been circulating, with over 1500 reports already made to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). These scams are taking advantage of the current concern many households in the UK are feeling due to the cost-of-living crisis.

IMPORTANT – the £400 discount for the UK government energy bill discount for all households WILL be applied automatically when it is released. You will not have to register or apply for anything. No household will be asked for their bank details at any point. Please follow official government guidance.

You can find more information about the scam here, including what to do if you have already been targeted and given your details over:

County Lines – Information and support

Following the recent spate of fatal shootings in Merseyside and London believed to be linked to organised crime, the August issue of this bulletin covered the issue of organised crime gangs and gun crime, we are continuing this theme this month with information and support links related to County Lines.

What is County Lines?

County lines is a form of criminal exploitation where urban gangs persuade, coerce or force children, young people or vulnerable adults to store drugs and money and/or transport them to suburban areas, market towns and coastal towns (Home Office, 2018). It can happen in any part of the UK and is against the law and a form of child abuse. Children, young people and adults may be criminally exploited in multiple ways. Other forms of criminal exploitation include sexual exploitation, trafficking, gang and knife crime.

County lines gangs are highly organised criminal networks that use sophisticated, frequently evolving techniques to groom young people or vulnerable adults and evade capture by the police.

Perpetrators use children, young people or vulnerable adults to maximise profits and distance themselves from the criminal act of physically dealing drugs. The vulnerable person does the majority of the work and take the most risk.

Dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines” are used to help facilitate county lines drug deals. Phones are usually cheap, disposable and old fashioned, because they are changed frequently to avoid detection by the police. Gangs use the phones to receive orders and contact and instruct where to deliver drugs. This may be to a local dealer or drug user, or a dealer or drug user in another county.


County lines is a cross-cutting issue that often overlaps with other forms of abuse and criminal exploitation. It can lead to serious physical and emotional harm to young people


Lack of understand that county lines is a form of abuse, may result in seeing children/vulnerable adults involved in county lines activity as criminals rather than as victims of criminal exploitation this can lead to them not getting the safeguarding support and protection they need.


Perpetrators may use drugs and alcohol to entice people into the gang lifestyle.In some cases, gangs trick people into incurring drug debts that they then have to pay off through county lines activity. This is often referred to as ‘debt bondage’.

Physical violence

There is a strong link between county lines activity and serious violence such as knife and gun crime, the use of substances such as acid as a weapon, homicide. The fear of serious physical violence as revenge for disrespecting, ‘snitching’ or ‘grassing’ is one of the things that prevents people from leaving gangs or seeking help from the police and other agencies.

Sexual abuse and exploitation

As well as being used to transport drugs, county lines gangs may sexually abuse and exploit children, young people or adults of any gender.

This can happen through:

  • being forced into sexual activity with gang members or for the gang’s financial gain
  • being made to work off drug debts through sexual exploitation as ‘payment’ (this might happen after the child has been coerced into becoming dependent on drugs by the gang)
  • being groomed into what they believe is a romantic relationship with a gang member which then leads to exploitation
  • Victims can be forced to transport drugs in ways that are invasive and harmful to their bodies. Young people may be forced to swallow bags of drugs to transport them, which could potentially be life threatening.

Trafficking and missing children

Young people can be trafficked to locations far away from where they live for long periods of time by a county lines gang. They may end up staying in unsuitable accommodation in an area that is unknown to them. This might include short term holiday lets or budget hotels.


Cuckooing happens when a county lines gang takes over the home of a vulnerable adult by coercion or force and use it as a base to deal drugs from. The vulnerable adult may have issues with substance misuse or mental health problems, be elderly or disabled or be in debt to the gang. These factors can make it easier for the gang to exploit and control them.

Financial exploitation and abuse

Gangs are known to launder money from drug sales through another person’s bank account, either by using an existing account or forcing or persuading them to open a new one.


Once they have identified a victim, the gang will make some form of contact and the grooming process will begin. This could be in person or via mobile phone. Social media profiles may also be used to glamourise gang life and entice young people.

Signs that a young person or adult may be involved in criminal exploitation

  • frequently going missing from education/training or work.
  • travelling to locations, or being found in areas they have no obvious connections with, including seaside or market towns
  • acquiring money, clothes, accessories or mobile phones which they seem unable to account for
  • withdrawing or having sudden changes in personality, behaviour or the language they use
  • having relationships with controlling or older individuals and groups
  • significant decline in education/training results or performance
  • being isolated from peers or social networks
  • self-harming or having significant changes in mental health.

Useful Links

For further information about County Lines.

Self-harm and Online Content

With the inquest into the death of Molly Russell taking place, there has been a lot in the news over the past weeks about the dangers of self-harm as well as suicide related content online. It is really important to have regular conversations with young people and learners about online use and things they can do to stay safe as well as what support options are available. Below is some advice for parents and professionals.

A Mindful Approach

While it is important to promote online safety to young audiences, it is safer to approach this with general messages about online safety, without referencing specific incidences. If you are forwarded warnings relating to self-harm and suicide, warning others may seem like the smart thing to do. However, sending warnings can draw unwanted attention towards the content and the potential harm it can bring. Please think carefully about what you share, minimise the exposure and don’t give young people something to look for.

Have Open Conversations

Talk about all their online activity. Let them share what they’re playing or looking at, rather than asking them whether they have seen or engaged with specific harmful content online. This approach may draw their interest to it or mean they do not talk about other concerning online activities. If young people express any concern or worries over content they have seen online, or posts or comments that friends or others have made, it is important to listen to them and offer support.

Providing information and signposting to sources of support

Is important for all young people at any time. It may also be useful to provide advice on how young people can support themselves and their friends. If you have concerns that someone is suicidal, useful information can be found on Samaritan’s website along with tips for discussing suicide safely online

Report Harmful Content Online

Stop the spread of harm by reporting self-harm and suicide content online. Social media sites and other platforms have direct reporting routes for this type of content and remember, you can visit Report Harmful Content to find out how to report harmful content online. Talk about how to report content, age restrictions on different sites and why they exist. Anyone over the age of 13 can make a report on Report Harmful Content. A practitioner will check submitted reports and provide further advice on actions they can take.

Further information and support

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or are supporting someone else, the Staying Safe website provides information on how to make a safety plan. It includes video tutorials and online templates to guide you through the process.