Members of the public and those working in the service, retail or transport industries are in a position to spot signs of exploitation and abuse. Collectively we can safeguard more young people if we all know what to look out for and how to report concerns to the police.

These signs aren't obvious and can be: 

  • Travelling alone, particularly in school hours, late at night or frequently 
  • Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings 
  • Anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them 
  • In possession of more than one phone 
  • Carrying lots of cash 
  • Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Being instructed or controlled by another individual
  • Accompanied by individuals who are older than them
  • Seen begging in a public space 


Criminal gangs often establish a ‘trap house’ in a particular location, a rural area or small town for a short time, by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’ - named after the cuckoo's practise of taking over other birds' nests for its young (see below). Victims of ‘cuckooing’ are often drug users but can include older people, those with a learning disability or suffering from mental or physical health problems, female sex workers, single mums and those living in poverty. Victims of cuckooing may suffer from other forms of addiction, such as alcoholism and there have been instances of harm perpetrated against children and young people by these individuals.

Some people may be forced to leave their homes, making themselves homeless and leaving the gangs free to sell drugs in their absence.


Signs that cuckooing may be going on at a property include:

  • An increase in people entering and leaving
  • An increase in cars or bikes outside 
  • Possible increase in anti-social behaviour 
  • Increasing litter outside
  • Signs of drugs use
  • Lack of healthcare visitors
  • Suspicious vehicles or people at an address?
  • A neighbour has not been seen for a while? Or they are more distance than usual (with more visitors)
  • Short term or holiday lets – unusual activity
  • Older member of the community unexpectedly driving around unknown individuals



Some words are commonly used when describing county lines activity. If you hear or see someone using these words it could mean that they are involved in, or might know of county lines activity.

  • Cuckooing: Cuckooing is when drug gangs take over the home of a vulnerable person through violence and intimidation, using it as their base for selling/manufacturing drugs.
  • Going Country / OT / Going Cunch: This is the most popular term that describes county lines activity. It can also mean the act of travelling to another city/town to deliver drugs or money.
  • Trapping: The act of selling drugs. Trapping can refer to the act of moving drugs from one town to another or the act of selling drugs in one.
  • Trap House or Bando: A building used as a base from where drugs are sold (or sometimes manufactured). These houses usually are occupied by someone (usually adult drug users but sometimes young people are forced to stay in trap houses).
  • Trap Line: This refers to when someone owns a mobile phone specifically for the purpose of running and selling drugs.
  • OBS / OPPO: This refers to opposition as in a rivalling neighbourhood gang.
  • Plugging: This is where things have been concealed for transporting usually inserted into the rectum or vagina.
  • Shotter: A drug dealer
  • “G”: A gram of illegal drugs
  • “Q”: A quarter of an ounce of drugs

The Children’s Society Slang Dictionary has a comprehensive guide on county lines vocabulary.