Revealed: The secret manual of dirty tricks
Tracing agencies working on behalf of leading financial and legal companies used a 43-page ‘Blaggers’ Manual’ to train their staff
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Friday 19 July 2013
The 43-page Telephone Blaggers Training Manual for Trace Work sustained a murky network of private investigations companies which employed agents to plunder the National Health Service, Customs and Excise, social security, Royal Mail, high street banks, utilities companies, credit card firms and local authorities for personal information.
It is clear tracing agents using the manual are working for well-resourced organisations.
“After you have completed your report, update your clipboard and scoreboard and submit your work to the office manager, who will ensure that everything is as it should be. After being passed by him/her your work is processed by another department who then send the official product out to our client,” says the manual.
It adds: “With the answers we need, we can become a tracing department of gruesome power.” For those who might have ethical or legal worries, the manual claims that they are doing a good thing in pursuing those “shirking their responsibilities”.
“Tracing is necessary for creditors such as banks, who need to know where their absconders reside so that they can take appropriate action against them,” it says.
“Occasionally you will be asked to trace for different reasons; your work will not always be debt-related, but it is probably a good idea to overcome any moral hang-ups you may have about ‘snooping’ or ‘dishonesty’. The fact is that through learning acts of technical deception, you will be performing a task which is not only of value to us or our client, but to industry as a whole. You will be at the very sharpest end of credit policing, and the fight against the recession and debt.”
Blaggers are told to memorise their pseudonyms and told to leave false contact numbers that cannot be traced, including a BT test line at a London exchange that “cannot be answered as it is one-way working”. Another BT line is also offered because it “is permanently engaged”.
It says: “Do not give out company numbers if you have committed any deception: this will cause us serious security problems.” Blaggers are told that “as you become more experienced you will learn how to out con conmen”.
Operators are encouraged to lie. “Within reason, you may use any arts of persuasion to find things out. Women are better off using their ‘feminine weapons’. Men are better off saying they have work for the subject, or money, or a wedding invitation. Just use your imagination, always remembering credibility is the key.” Tracers are told: “Use a killer instinct.”
The manual contains many “sample blags” for agents to memorise and lists of jargon to improve the credibility of their patter. Among the targets were:
Family Health Services Authorities
These now-defunt health bodies, which held much patient information, were regarded as good sources of information. “Indebtedness tends to be a worrying, painful ordeal, and has been proving to be a factor in deuterating (sic) mental and physical health,” it states. “People are often neurotic even paranoid. Further to this a large percentage of people have repeat prescriptions particularly ladies on the contraceptive pill.”
Addresses from the FHSA computer can be obtained through “legitimate misrepresentation”. Instructions are given on posing as the missing person, claiming that a medical card has not been received and trying to trick the health employee into breaching data protection law by giving the address.
The Inland Revenue
The manual states that tax office computers “wield phenomenal power”. “With an amount of effort and learning, a devastating system can arise, giving you the nation’s records at your fingertips.” Users are advised to pose as their subject and obtain their national insurance number. “If they offer resistance then haggle, wheedle, charm, argue and con, until you get it, even if it means several assaults on several different tax offices, get it, it’s important.”
Department for Work and Pensions
Staff here are “strait-laced and always do things by the book”. “They are utterly paranoid about bogus callers/computer hackers/impersonators/liars/tricksters and other undesirables. They are insular snobs,” says the manual. “The way to con this type of person is to convince them you are just as prim and proper as they are. Don’t even bother calling them under the pretext that you are a cockney or an idiot, because you won’t last five seconds. They deal with idiots and layabouts all day, so ring them in the style of a keen little civil servant.”
“When the switchboard lady answers, ask to speak to someone regarding a ‘serious lack of statements’,” it says. “You have to make that person want to tell you that address, even though we all know they shouldn’t.”
To obtain someone’s bank details, the blagger is also advised to pose as someone from a utility company and to say that the customer is due a refund.
The National Health Service
Female tracers can be particularly effective in NHS calls, the manual advises. “If the subject is a man, then you are his wife. Act very stupid and say that your husband can’t speak English and is very ill.” It advises: “If you are asked what the nature of the tests are hint that it’s probably Aids or some other very important discreet tests that need to be done or others may get infected.”
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