NCA warns furloughed airport workers could be exploited by organised crime groups

The NCA warns that furloughed airport and port staff who are returning to work and who have detailed knowledge of controls and processes around the border could be targeted by organised crime groups.


The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) has issued an alert to furloughed port and airport workers warning they may be vulnerable to organised crime groups (OCGs) seeking to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.

As global restrictions on the movement of people and goods are further relaxed, the alert warns that staff who have a detailed knowledge of controls and processes around the border could be targeted.

The warning has been issued to companies at the border, including port and airport operators, contractors, couriers and freight operators, as their furloughed staff return to work following the easing of COVID restrictions.

NCA Borders Threat Lead, Beki Wright, said: “Life has been difficult for everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic, including staff who work at the border, but organised criminals are alive to the opportunities this presents.

“The prospect of having your bills paid in exchange for disclosing knowledge about the UK border might seem appealing, but the people behind these offers are high-harm criminals responsible for drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering and people trafficking.

“Working with our partners at the Department for Transport and Border Force, we are determined to do all we can to combat corruption and dismantle the criminal networks responsible for it.”

Rob Allen, Deputy Director for the Border Force Insider Threat and Integrity Team, said: “We are absolutely committed to tackling organised crime and doing whatever is necessary to protect the public from harm.

“We welcome opportunities such as working with the NCA to disrupt organised criminal networks.”

In recent years NCA investigations and intelligence has identified examples of organised criminal networks targeting those working at ports and airports, parcel hubs and delivery centres. While the numbers are relatively low, the impact of such corrupt insiders can be extremely high.

The NCA’s 2021 National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised crime states that OCG efforts to establish new insider contacts are likely to increase as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Amber Alert issued by the agency warns that OCGs frequently offer financial support in return for knowledge and access to restricted areas. This can be used to help smuggle illicit commodities such as firearms and drugs, or the movement of vulnerable people and children through organised immigration crime.

OCGs may approach workers face-to-face or online, posing as recruiters or on some other legitimate pretext.

Beki Wright added: “We are aware that staff can be contacted via social media channels and would urge anyone who has been approached in this or any other way to contact us immediately. Your actions could help prevent serious criminality.

“If you are or have been approached or you have information please contact Crimestoppers anonymously, either online or by phone on 0800 555 111. If you have the means to report it through your employer or access to a whistle-blowing scheme, you can use that. Please do not turn a blind eye.”