Young homeless people, especially men, are at particular risk of criminal exploitation. Exploiters are known to target food banks, homeless shelters and soup kitchens to recruit vulnerable people under the pretence of offering short term, 'cash in hand' work. Once lured in, drugs and/or alcohol is often used as a way of controlling the victim.
Victims are also recruited from other countries, with a promise of work, money and a better life, then trafficked to the UK where they are forced to commit crimes. Some may speak little or no English and be unable to ask for help, leaving them at the mercy of organised criminals who are able to deceive, coerce and control them.
Different types of criminal exploitation
- Forced begging, busking and pickpocketing
These forms of exploitation can be highly organised with exploiters having control over several individuals. Victims are instructed to meet their exploiters throughout the day to hand over their takings (for pickpockets this may include debit/credit cards) and are often housed together in cramped and unsuitable living conditions.
- Forced shoplifting
Forced shoplifting is another form of exploitation often run by organised criminal groups to generate income. The exploiters are generally well organised with a planned approach to shoplifting - forcing victims to steal pre-selected items. If a victim is arrested the exploiter will abandon them.
- Cannabis farming
Victims of forced cannabis farming are often imprisoned on the premises where they feed, water and look after cannabis plants. Often brought to the UK illegally, victims are likely to be fearful of the authorities because of their immigration status and may speak little or no English, giving traffickers further means of control. They may also be controlled through debt bondage.
- Finance abuse and benefit fraud
Traffickers may have coerced victims who have some form of legitimate employment and wages, into opening a bank account, or may have acted as a 'friend' or 'translator' and opened an account on their behalf. The trafficker then controls the account, often deducting money from their wages to pay off a 'debt' incurred for travel to the UK, helping to find them work, accommodation or transport to and from work. This can also lead to victims being forced to, or unknowingly, take out credit cards and/or claim benefits which the traffickers take from them.
- Drug dealing and county lines
County lines is a very specific form of criminal exploitation. Find out more here.