Sussex Police are supporting a national warning about the need for residents to be alert to a growing fraud in which criminals pose as police officers or bank staff and ask their victims to take part in a fake undercover operation or some other ruse.
There were 114 cases in Sussex in the year to the end of September. 47 succeeded in defrauding local people of a total of £419,414. 96% of victims are over 60, and over half live alone.
UK Finance, a new trade association representing the finance and banking industry, issued the renewed warning on Wednesday 29 November.
Fraudsters are contacting members of the public, usually by phone, purporting to be from the police, or in some cases the fraud team within their bank. The criminal claims they are investigating a fraud at a local bank branch where staff are suspected of being complicit, including issuing fake bank notes, and asks their target to help in the operation.
Individuals are requested to visit the branch and withdraw a substantial sum, often thousands of pounds, of the supposedly counterfeit cash to hand over to the ‘police’ for ‘analysis’. The victim is assured that the money will be deposited back into their account after the operation is complete. However, once the money is passed over the fraudster disappears with the cash.
The criminal instructs their victim not to discuss the case with anyone in the branch, giving them plausible explanations as to why they are withdrawing the money. As a result, despite being questioned by the bank staff, the victim takes out the cash, convinced that the staff are part of a fraud.
In another version of the scam, the criminal convinces the victim to transfer money to a so-called ‘safe account’ to protect their funds from the ‘corrupt’ bank staff. However, the account is in fact controlled by the criminal.
All customers are reminded that the police and banks will never ask members of the public to become part of an anti-fraud operation or to transfer money to a ‘safe account’ for fraud reasons.
PC Bernadette Lawrie, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex Police said: “This is a particularly nasty scam as it plays on people’s public-spirited nature to assist the police. We are receiving a growing number of reports of it occurring, with people often losing large amounts of money, so it’s vital that everyone is aware. Remember, the police will never ask you to withdraw money and hand it over to them for safe-keeping.”
“The good news is that of 114 attempts in Sussex more than half failed, thanks to the increasing awareness of local residents, and to shop and bank staff who recognise the tell-tale signs of this type of fraudulent activity and are blocking purchases and contacting the police.
“But everyone, especially the elderly and those who live alone, must remain on the alert for approaches like this”.
Advice to consumers on how to avoid this fraud includes;
• The police will never ask you to become part of an undercover investigation or for you to withdraw cash and hand it to them for safe-keeping.
• Be wary of any calls, texts or emails purporting to be from the police asking for your personal or financial details, or for you to transfer money.
• If you are approached, or feel something is suspicious, hang up the phone and don’t reply. Then report it to Action Fraud and your bank on their advertised number.
Never send or give money to anyone you don’t know or trust; check people are who they say they are; don’t share your personal information; make decisions in your own time; and if in doubt phone a relative or a friend.
Operation Signature is the Sussex Police campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud across the county. Fraud is becoming more complex and deceptive, and much of it is targeted at vulnerable and elderly people.
The force has a process for recognising victims of all fraud as victims of crime and providing preventative measures to support and protect them from further targeting. This can include helping them to change their phone number to an ex-directory number, contacting family to suggest Power of Attorney, mail re-direction, offering them advice on call blocking devices and referring them to other support services.
See here for further information about Operation Signature.
Also visit the Take Five to Stop Fraud website for more advice on how to stay safe from scams.
Newsdesk Guidance; For further information about UK Finance please contact their press office on 020 7416 6750 or at https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/news/