Detectives from Zephyr – the South West’s regional organised crime unit – made dawn arrests in London today (Tuesday October 28) as part of an investigation into a £2m courier fraud investigation.
More than 300 people – mainly vulnerable elderly - have been victims of the elaborate fraud, being duped out of up to £2m by the scammers.
The 10 people – nine men and one woman – aged between 19 and 42 years were arrested on suspicion of Conspiracy to Commit Fraud, contrary to S1 Criminal Law Act 1977 and money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. They were arrested at various addresses in Kensington and Chelsea, Reading, Westminster, Tower Hamlets, Merton, Waltham Forest and Bromley and have all been taken to a central London police station and remain in custody.
As part of the investigation, a total of 17 addresses are being searched in Kensington and Chelsea, Ealing, Westminster, Bromley, Merton, Lewisham, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Newham.
The joint Zephyr / Metropolitan Police operation follows a three month complex and painstaking operation by detectives at Zephyr supported by colleagues in the Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire forces.
The number of people who have been victims of courier fraud in the south west region has topped 300 but it is possible many more victims - embarrassed by the scam - may not have reported incidents to the police.
Around nine out of 10 people contacted have been aged over 60, being duped out of various cash sums, including the highest individual losses of £130,000 in Devon and Cornwall and £112,000 in Dorset.
DCI Nigel Woods of Zephyr said: “Todays arrests, following several over the past two months should provide reassurance that we are now tracking down and arresting people involved in this despicable form of crime, which preys predominantly on the elderly and vulnerable.
“We hope todays arrests send out a strong message that we will target those involved in courier fraud, arrest them and take them before the courts. It is possible that some victims may feel too embarrassed, ashamed or humiliated to come forward and report that they have been duped. We want to hear from these people.
“The more we talk about this scam and the more people who are made aware of it, the less likely that they are to become victims. We need people to spread the word. If you have elderly and vulnerable relatives, neighbours, colleagues and friends warn them to be vigilant and on their guard for telephone calls of this kind.
“We are particularly appealing to three broad groups of people to help us prevent these crimes:
- Children, grandchildren, relatives and friends of the elderly and vulnerable - please share this advice and if concerned, ask questions.
- We want taxi company owners and drivers to be vigilant, especially if approached or asked to courier small packages to London on half of elderly people.
- And thirdly, we want banks and other financial institutions - and in particular counter staff – to be suspicious if elderly customers uncharacteristically draw large amounts of cash and query this.
“Broadly the same approach has been used by a number of fraudsters across the south west and in other parts of the country. The scam started in the south east of England but has spread much wider,” said DCI Woods.
The perpetrators contact potential victims – who are normally elderly - by telephone, purporting to be a police officer. They are then encouraged by the fraudster, who uses elaborate and convincing reasons to withdraw large sums of cash, which they are then asked to send to London by taxi or a courier, or by electronic transfer of large amounts to a fraudulent bank account .
The culprit claims the money is potential evidence for an investigation and that it is needed so it can be forensically examined.
Another scam involves someone claiming to be a London-based police officer, who informs the victim that two people have been arrested in the capital. When arrested they had in their possession, bank cards which contained details of the victim. The victim is asked to call the bogus officer and is given a false collar number and telephone number which helps reassure the victim.
Because the fraudster does not replace his phone however, the unsuspecting victim dials but is still connected to the original caller but under the impression they have reached a genuine police officer. The fraudster then encourages the unsuspecting victim to provide private banking details and may also be asked to withdraw cash.
DCI Woods confirmed: “The police and the banks will NEVER ask you for banking details or PIN numbers on the phone. Similarly, they would never send a so-called ‘courier’ to collect bank cards or money.
“In previous incidents the victims did the right thing when they became suspicious of callers. They hung up the phone and called the police. They waited until they could hear a dialling tone or used a different phone to call us, ensuring that the scammers weren’t still connected to the line.
“Only in the past month a woman victim in Dorset was duped out of £5000 by courier fraudsters,” warned DCI Woods.
For more information on scams, please download a copy of “The Little Book of Big Scams’ produced by the Met Police on their website.