Courier fraud is rising. Police say in that in the last two years (2018 and 2019), more than 3,000 people have been victims of this kind of scam, and numbers have risen steeply in the last six months. A couple in Dorset lost nearly £1 million in pensions and savings to courier fraud in August 2019.
The police are taking action – in a series of raids in England and Wales, 44 people have been arrested since November 2019. However police warn that the fraudsters are part of larger criminal operations.
Commander Karen Baxter, City of London Police, National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime, said: “This is a despicable crime in which fraudsters specifically target older people, by exploiting their trust in the police and their bank, to bleed them dry."
She adds: "Courier fraudsters are nearly always part of broader criminal gangs: they are persuasive and can be aggressive. This can be particularly intimidating when they turn up on a victim’s doorstep. We... know that it’s a grossly under-reported crime. That’s why we have focused on tackling this contemptible crime with a drive on awareness raising and increased enforcement.”
How courier fraud works
The scam starts with a phone call from the fraudster, pretending to be a bank official or a police officer. The caller may be asked to confirm some personal details that would be fairly easy to find out, such as their name and address.
The fraudster may then give the victim a phone number to call. The phone number is meant to reassure the victim that this is a genuine case and not a scam. If the victim calls the number, it’s answered by the fraudster who pretends to be someone else. Once the fraudster has gained the trust of the victim they will suggest a plausible scenario, such as some money has been removed from a victim’s bank account and staff at their local bank branch are responsible. Suspects have already been arrested but the “police” need money for evidence. Or they will claim a business such as a jewellers or currency exchange, is operating fraudulently and they need assistance to gather evidence.
The next step
The fraudster then asks the victim if they will help them with the investigation by doing one of the following:
• Going to their bank and taking out money
• Withdrawing foreign currency from an exchange
• Buying an expensive item for an expert to examine
The victim may be given a ‘safe’ code word that the courier or expert will say to them so they will know they are genuine. The courier will then turn up to collect the money or expensive object, and say the code word, reassuring the victim once again that they are genuine.
When the money or object is handed over, the victim is promised that they’ll get all the money back or be reimbursed for their purchase. However, the fraudster then disappears, and the victim never receives the money they’re owed.
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Action Fraud has the following advice to protect yourself from courier fraud.
Your bank or the police will never:
• Phone and ask you for your PIN or full banking password.
• Ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them for safe-keeping,
• Send someone to your home to collect cash, PIN, cards or cheque books if you're a victim of fraud.
Don’t assume an email or phone call is authentic
Just because someone knows your basic details (such as your name and address or even your mother’s maiden name), it doesn’t mean they are genuine. Be mindful of who you trust – criminals may try and trick you into their confidence by telling you that you’ve been a victim of fraud.
Stay in control
If something feels wrong, then it's usually right to question it. Have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for personal or financial information.
The TakeFive campaign encourages you to stop and think about whether the situation is genuine, and if what you’re being told really makes sense. There’s lots of advice and information on their website.
For more information about how to protect yourself online, visit the Government’s Cyber Aware website.
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