Serious organised crime: communications evidence review

Review of messaging around serious organised crime and toolkit for communicators to reduce demand, victimisation and fear.

Annex A – A Toolkit for Communicators


Decide with operational partners the most critical or potentially beneficial crimes or aspects of crime to target with an awareness campaign - this will not necessarily be the same as the most critical targets for operations. Within those crime types, establish the specific behaviours or attitudes which would be most valuable to address.


Gather and use as much data as possible. Encourage organised crime-related questions to be incorporated into existing studies, and repeat those studies. Develop relationships with academics and other researchers to ensure information generated as part of research projects is analysed and is both useful to and actively captured by communications groups and used to inform messages.


Where possible, and in particular prior to substantial campaigns, test messages on target groups and use results to refine approach. Focus on demonstrating the personal relevance and benefit of messages, and if possible frame the recommended actions as compatible with existing behaviours (for instance "if you would lock your home, you would use strong passwords")


Effective awareness campaigns are not single-day events. Commit to a suite of messages about certain crime types for a sustained period. The more organisations that buy into and can amplify the messages, the better. Agree a limited number of prevention messages and resources for each key crime type and stick to them.


Be sure that measurement of success is tied to the ultimate goal, rather than assumed intermediate steps. There are many free resources for measuring, for instance, social media uptake of various campaigns. However, the "reach" of a media campaign is only one of many measures necessary to evaluate a behaviour change campaign, and if used in isolation is likely to give a false sense of achievement. Wherever possible, measure the behaviours or attitudes themselves.

Be Positive

Stressing the prevalence of undesirable behaviour can backfire, and make people more likely to behave that way themselves. Subjects that are consistently presented in a negative way may elicit more interest if the framing is reversed. Focus on the potential benefit of change, rather than the risk of failing to change. Where possible, present damaging behaviour as a minor, socially undesirable activity, and reference specific personal experiences wherever possible. Consider if it is necessary to use phrase "organised crime" – which carries many negative/fearful connotations.

Be Personal

Frame messages in a way that encourages empowerment and emphasises how the suggested actions will make the individual feel better about themselves. Whether discussing threat or remedy, demonstrate potential personal impact rather than generalisms or statistics.

Be Specific

"Fraud", "counterfeits", "cybercrime" etc. are all useful terms for law enforcement, but in practical terms and for the purposes of public advice they can be so broad as to be almost meaningless. Where possible talk of specific risks or solutions rather than crime types which few understand. Recognise and avoid jargon. Some criminals don't understand the harm their actions cause – where possible, address this.

Make It Easy

Make proposed changes to behaviour as straightforward as possible. Encourage environmental changes where possible, or where the structure of current practices enables inaction.

Be Useful

Whenever threat is discussed, present a solution – whether it is specific actions that people can take to protect themselves; how they can know if they are at risk; how they can know if they have been victimised; what crimes may look like; how to report the crime.


Reassurance of an agency's capability in dealing with the threat does not decrease fear, as it places the threat front and centre but does not describe ways in which individual members of the public can protect or distance themselves from the possibility of victimisation. The primary driver of fear is not the threat alone, but a feeling of personal powerlessness in the face of it.

Target Reputation

Organised criminals rely on their reputation – and cybercriminals in particular. When there are opportunities to undermine reputation, or the expectation of reputation, do so. Challenge assumptions or attractions to organised crime groups at all opportunities – it is not just about money. For instance, when publicising cybercrime prosecutions, be sure to state both the accused's real and online IDs – those they deal with in dark markets may well not know their real name, and so the deterrent message will be lost if only it is used.

Understand the Medium

We want to give people tools. The news media are likely to cover the large threats, cases or initiatives. If our comments around every case are solely focused on reassurance of our expertise, we may continue to increase fear and decrease personal capability and the level of practical knowledge. Make prevention messages as newsworthy as possible, and build them into statements about newsworthy cases or initiatives. Actively seek out engagement with less traditional sources of information ( e.g. television, novels, documentaries, etc.).

Proposed crime messaging model, I. Campbell, 2017
Proposed crime messaging model, I. Campbell, 2017


Email: Jim Hislop,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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