BTP Twitter Team Strangely Tight-Lipped About Fraud Prevention

There has always been scope for criminals might pose as ticket inspectors but until about 3 years ago the risk of being caught would probably have outweighed any potential financial reward.

The introduction of travel by contactless card provides fraudsters with a new opportunity temptation to pose as ticket inspectors in order to skim card details from unsuspecting rail passengers.   The “beauty” of this crime is that a fake ticket inspector could skim details off hundreds of cards and nobody would be any the wiser until long after the criminal had disappeared.

I decided to check what fraud prevention advice British Transport Police (BTP) could provide to help passenger avoid becoming victims of this and other potential crimes that could be carried out by someone posing as a member rail staff.

Turning to Twitter, I addressed the following question to @BTP and @BTPSussex:

If ticket inspector refuses to show ID, should passenger give them access to contactless / ApplePay/ ticket / payment?

You would think this would be a really simple question to answer.  Any member of rail staff who approaches you to check your ticket is under a statutory obligation to produce identification on request.

So the obvious answer BTP should have given is that if someone claiming to be a ticket inspector refuses to show ID, you should not give them access to anything of value – including your ticket (what’s the risk?).  The best course of action is to call the police for assistance.

The silence from the @BTP account was deafening.  I did ask the question twice from two different accounts, in case they had missed it the first time.

@BTPSussex did respond although they never actually gave a direct answer to the question I had asked.

The implications of their first response what worrying:  They asked: “Was the ticket inspector in uniform?”  The question seems to imply that they are defining uniform as being ID. This would be a very irresponsible thing for any police officer to suggest.  Uniform is not a reliable form of ID:

  • People often see more uniform than is actually there.  One ticket inspector, when I asked to see his ID, indignantly told me he was “in full uniform”.  In fact he was actually wearing no item of clothing with the train company’s logo at all.
  • People also mistake one uniform for another.  It is not uncommon for London Underground staff and even air crew to be approached on mainline trains for information about the service.
  • In fact a “uniform” typically only consists of either a jacket or jumper bearing the train company logo + a name badge.
  • There is no photo to demonstrate it belongs to the bearer.  For all you know, that jacket/jumper was stolen from the back of a chair where a genuine staff member had left it on a hot summer’s day.  Or perhaps it was bought off Ebay where a former employee sold it off.

If you read the Railway Byelaws it is very clear from the wording that the identification referred to is not a uniform but an ID that the ticket inspector must produce on request:

Railway Byelaws 24.3

To be fair to @BTPSussex they ask Southern Rail for details of identification, who replied that:

  • All their ticket inspectors are issued with photo IDs
  • They must show it on request.
  • If they refuse to show ID then the passenger should make clear that they will only present a ticket for inspection once they have seen ID.

And in relation to a further question, @BTPSussex did confirm that a passenger should call them if they believe they have been approached by a fake ticket inspector.

BTP Sussex Confirms To Call If Not Genuine

But at a time when fraud is on the increase and other police forces are investing a lot of effort in educating the public to always check for ID and make sure that anyone who makes an unsolicited approach is genuine, BTP’s fraud prevention advice is conspicuous by its absence.

As far as I can see their website is devoid of any advice encouraging passengers to check for ID when approached, nor can I see any tweet in the recent timelines of either of the above Twitter accounts reminding people to make sure they see a photo ID before giving a “ticket inspector” access to their contactless card, ApplePay device or even their ticket.

So lacking are their efforts in this area that it makes you wonder whether they believe in fraud prevention at all.

UPDATE: Since writing the above post, British Transport Police’s Head of Crime Reduction has written to me to confirm that BTP does encourage passengers to check for photo IDs and if someone refuses to show an ID on request, then you should call BTP for assistance.  More detail…