Police issue warning as Thames Valley residents lose £1.5m to courier fraud criminals in one year

    The son of a victim of courier fraud is urging carers, family and friends of vulnerable people to be on their guard to help prevent their loved ones being exploited by fraudsters.

    181 Thames Valley residents reported a courier fraud with total losses of £1,506,131 in 2021 alone.

    Courier fraudsters target their victims by claiming to be a police officer or a member of staff from a victim’s bank and they often pressure people into making quick financial decisions to assist with fictious investigations.

    The warning comes as a new list of tactics used by courier fraudsters has been unveiled by the City of London Police which encompasses the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB).

    An analysis of data from the NFIB has highlighted four modus operandi (MOs) which are now more commonly being used by fraudsters.

    Four common MOs used by courier fraudsters:

    • Bank card expiry: Fraudsters claim to be from the victim’s bank and say their card is no longer valid. They ask for the pin number and then send a “courier” to collect the card before using it for fraudulent purposes.
    • Purchasing high end items: The suspects pretend to be police officers and ask the victim to help with an undercover operation by purchasing expensive items like watches, jewellery and gold. One the item is bought, the victim will hand over the item to the criminal.
    • Counterfeit cash/bank investigation: A person claiming to be a police or banking official informs the victim that they need to help with a banking corruption investigation. The victim is told to withdraw a large amount of money and the cash is picked up later by a courier to “check for fingerprints or to identify counterfeit bank notes”.
    • Computer takeover: The fraudster telephones the victim, purporting to be from their internet service provider, saying that they have had an issue with their internet connectivity and they are due compensation. The victim is persuaded to download a remote access application, giving the suspects access to their home computers. The fraudster persuades the victims into thinking that they have been paid too much compensation and the victims then withdraw cash to pay the money back, which is later collected by a courier.

    Signs of courier fraud

    • Courier fraud usually starts with an unsolicited telephone call to the victim.
    • Typically the suspect will pose as a bank official, police officer or a computer or utility engineer.
    • Courier fraudsters will usually request the victim purchases high value items such as Rolex watch and gold bullion, withdraws cash or provides a bank card for collection from a courier.
    • Fraudsters will instruct victims not tell any family or friends about what they are doing.
    • When carrying out courier fraud, criminals will request the victim hangs up the phone to ring their bank for confirmation while keeping the line open. The suspect then purports to be bank official and provides false confirmation.
    • Fraudsters will also make arrangements for a courier meet the victim to collect the item they have purchased.

    Anyone who receives an unexpected call from someone claiming to be one of these officials should verify they are speaking to someone genuine: hang up, wait five minutes and call back on a number they know is genuine.

    In August 2021, Brian’s* 83-year-old mother was called on her landline from a man claiming to be a police officer. The caller said a man, claiming to be her nephew, had been arrested in possession of her debit card and £1,400 had been spent. During subsequent phone calls, Brian’s mother was deceived into believing she had spoken to her bank and several detectives.

    The suspect convinced Brian’s mother that her bank was involved in counterfeit bank notes and the police needed her to assist them by working undercover. She was sworn to secrecy and instructed to visit her bank and tell them she needed to withdraw £4,250 to assist her son. She was told to put the cash, her driving licence and her bank card in an envelope and was given a security password to be used by the courier, upon collection.

    A “courier” arrived and after saying the agreed password, Brian’s mother gave them the envelope. Over the next few days, the fraudster phoned Brian’s mother and instructed her to move money from her savings account to her current account. Numerous fraudulent transactions were subsequently made totalling £29,788

    Brian said: “As soon as she told me what had been going on, I knew it was fraud. These scams completely undermine people’s confidence. My mother, who is very resilient, now questions everyone she speaks to because it has eaten away at her trust and confidence in people.

    “I would urge everyone to trust their own good sense and intuition. If anyone is pressing you for urgency and secrecy, like they did with my mother, that should ring alarm bells. If it is genuine, it can wait.”

    Data from the NFIB shows that women between 70 to 89 years old lost more than £6.7 million to courier fraud in 2021. Men in the same age range lost almost £4.2 million during the same period.

    A number of support services have been created to help combat nuisance calls, including the trueCall system. The device acts like a home receptionist and lets calls from friends and family straight through, but unrecognised callers are required to identify themselves before the call is put through and unwelcome callers are blocked.

    Detective Inspector Duncan Wynn, head of Thames Valley Police’s Central Fraud Unit, said: “Courier fraud can be a particularly callous crime and is often specifically targeted at older people, by exploiting their trust in the police and their bank in order to steal from them. Courier fraudsters are nearly always part of broader, sophisticated criminal gangs.

    “Thames Valley Police is increasing investigative activity in response to those committing these offences in order to disrupt their activity, prevent them targeting victims, and to bring them before the courts, and ultimately send them to prison.

    “Police and banks will never ask for full passwords and pin numbers or ask for money or goods to be handed or transferred to them.

    “Anybody being cold called and asked for personal details, to withdraw money or purchase high value items, is urged to end the calls and seek advice from trusted friends or family members, or to call their banks directly using the number on their bankcards.

     “Recent trends have seen jewellery shops and private hire vehicles used by criminals to facilitate this crime. We urge persons working in these industries to be extra vigilant and to contact the police to report any suspicions.”

    Take Five To Stop Fraud advice

    Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.

    Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

    Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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