What is cuckooing?
A cuckoo will often take over another bird’s nest, destroy the eggs, and lay its own eggs for the bird to look after.
The term is used to describe how others take over a person’s home and use it for criminal activities. These activities usually involve producing, storing and, or supplying drugs or weapons. It can sometimes involve holding parties and encouraging sexual activity. It can be part of a bigger, organised plan to move drugs, weapons and people around the country.
People who lack capacity or have a learning disability are particularly vulnerable.
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How does it start?
Cuckooing can happen to anyone of any age, in rented or homeowner property. Friendship is something that we all want, especially if we are lonely. Cuckooing starts by someone gaining trust through giving the person gifts and lots of attention. They may then invite their friends to the home. They may want them to do things that they don’t want to do.
The person and their family may not realise that the person is trying to trick or fool them into gaining free access to their home.
Early warning signs
There are some early warning signs – things that might help you realise that someone is acting in a way that isn’t okay. One or all these examples may apply:
- Are you frightened of them?
- Are you being asked to keep the friendship a secret?
- Are you being asked to meet them alone, in secret or with others that you don’t know?
- Are you being pressured into doing or saying things that make you feel uneasy?
- Do they give you gifts or things that you cannot afford to buy yourself – alcohol, tobacco or drugs?
- Do they know things about you that you haven’t told them?
- Do they keep things about themselves secret from you?
- Do they ask you to store things for them?
- Do they ask if they can meet their friends in your home?
- Have they asked you not to have visitors to your home, for example, friends, family or support?
- Do they tell you that you owe them as they have given you gifts?
Is your family member or a friend being cuckooed?
These are some of the most common signs to look out for. If you notice any of these things it could mean that the person’s home is being taken over:
- an increase in people you don’t know leaving or entering the home
- an increase in cars, taxis or bikes outside
- increase in litter outside
- increase in antisocial behaviour
- property falls into disrepair
- signs of drug or alcohol use and, or, parties
- your friend or family member no longer wants you to visit them at home
- your family member or friend say that they want to move but won’t tell you why
- your friend or family member becomes withdrawn
- complaints or concerns raised by neighbours
- your friend or family member has items that you feel they may not usually be able to afford
What can I do if I am worried I, or someone I know, is being cuckooed?
The first and most important thing is to tell someone. If you or they have support in place, inform the support worker or carer. They can make a safeguarding referral to someone who can help. They can also talk with you or the person you know, about ways to keep safe.
Report your concerns to the police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency. Ring and report to the police every time you are worried, frightened or concerned. This will establish a record of evidence that illegal activity may be happening in your property or in the property of a friend or family member.
Alternatively, call Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111. They are always 100% anonymous.
Information for practitioners
Further information is available for practitioners in the guidance document.