A report by the National Crime Agency has said that drug gangs are expanding their gangs out of major cities, using business cards to market themselves, and are effectively setting up drug hotlines using mobile phones. They are even selling drug user information to one another, in exchange for drugs themselves. They have also warned that the groups are using children and vulnerable people to act as runners and go-betweens.
The NCA has described incidents where a gang will use a single mobile phone number to sell drugs to people from an entire county. These “county lines” are answered by different people, and runners are then dispatched in the appropriate area to deliver the drugs and collect the money. The groups have even printed up business cards, which are then handed out in new areas in order to sell drugs including heroin and cocaine.
Gang practices are becoming more akin to professional business operations, with some groups offering buy one get one free deals, and even providing free samples to users as a trial run. The sophisticated methods that are being used are not only reserved for inner cities, anymore, but are expanding into rural and urban areas. Many of the towns and cities that have been targeted are on the coast.
One police expert has said that a single line was making £3,000 and £21,000 a day, and that these phone numbers can be used for several years without ever changing, and can even be worth as much as £25,000 once a network has been established.
The report itself primarily deals with the fact that children and vulnerable people are being used as runners and dealers, with them being identified as victims rather than criminals.
The NCA has said that this is not an issue that solely involves London gangs, either, and that the issue now affects the majority of police forces across the country. One recent bust saw arrests of a drug network in the Thames Valley area that was effectively being run by a gang in Cheltenham, justifying the need for the NCA and its use in drug operations.