Raising scamming research in Parliament

Professor Lee-Ann Fenge

Lee-Ann Fenge is a Professor of Social Care in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences here at BU. Since 2014 she’s been not only researching financial scams in the UK but engaging with policymakers in Parliament to prevent this growing problem.

“In 2016, the National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work research team was invited by Conor Burns MP to the House of Commons to launch our report on Financial Scamming & Fraud, alongside trading standards bodies. My former colleague Keith Brown had reached out to Conor as our local MP and ignited his interest – Dorset has more than the average number of older residents, and older people are a key target for scammers, so he wanted to help.

“I’d been into Parliament before, and it’s always a little intimidating, but the Policy & Public Affairs Team at BU arranged the reception event, supported us every step of the way and made sure it all went smoothly. We took along someone who had experienced being scammed, to speak directly to the MPs and help them understand just how easy it often is to become a victim of this type of crime. As well as demonstrating the breadth and depth of the problem, our aim was to highlight the human impact scamming has, especially on older and vulnerable people.  Sadly, sometimes people can lose their life savings, and even be pushed into severe debt, as a result of being scammed.

“After the launch, the report was sent to all MPs, aiming to ensure that they’re aware of the risk of scamming among their constituents, and calling on them to take steps to prevent it. Another MP, Julian Knight, led a Backbench Business Debate drawing attention to our measures – so it was very rewarding to have our work mentioned on the floor of the House of Commons!”

Conor Burns

Conor Burns

MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Crime and Scamming

I believe we are all indebted to the remorseless, ongoing and innovative work that the National Centre undertakes.

We helped MPs understand

“Conor’s interest in this area, and in our work at the Centre, led him to set up the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Financial Crime & Scamming the following year. The APPG is a cross-party group of MPs who scrutinise the work of Government, law enforcement and banks and make policy recommendations to encourage action. The APPG invited us back in 2017 to run a cyber scams and fraud event. In 2019, we worked together again, to produce a guidance and advice booklet, focusing on cyber fraud to reflect its increasing prevalence in society. Through these channels we’re keeping scamming high on the political agenda.”

Effecting change at all levels

“It's not just about influencing at the parliamentary level. We’ve worked with local government too, sending a textbook to every Safeguarding Adults Board in the country, with many local authorities incorporating it into their guidelines for frontline staff. And engaging with NHS England made sure our online learning tools were widely distributed to community health practitioners up and down the country.

“More recently we’ve been working with the policy teams at the Payment Systems Regulator too – helping develop their voluntary code, which requires banks to do the right thing and reimburse victims of Authorised Push Payment scams. It’s great to go into your local bank branch and see a poster or leaflet about it – it’s a reminder that you’ve made real change happen!”

Lee-Ann’s top three tips for political influence

  • Strike while the iron is hot! Policy-makers are influenced by the media and social discourse, so make sure you position your work as current and relevant. During the recent lockdowns, for example, many people reported loneliness. We know that when people are feeling lonely, they’re more vulnerable to financial scams. More recently, public awareness of romance-based financial scams has risen due to the Tinder Swindler documentary and other high-profile cases. Make the most of these windows of opportunity and use them as platforms for your work.
  • Give ‘experts by experience’ an opportunity to have their voice heard. Ensure people with lived experience are invited to tell their own story in their own way. Academics often draw attention to the bigger picture around a policy problem, and help policy-makers reach evidence-based solutions. But people who’ve lived through a problem and are willing to share their story can really bring it to life.
  • Make it easy for your audience. Policy-makers want short, succinct information in layman’s terms, so forget the jargon and academic language! Use visually engaging materials, infographics and lots of bullet points. Neglect executive summaries at your peril – they’re often the only bit that gets read!