Warning on cold calls that con victims out of cash and cards

(publicdomainpictures via Pixabay)

Surrey Police are warning about the danger of “courier fraud” – in which victims are tricked into handing over cash or bank cards – after more than 400 reports of the crime in the county in 2019.

Criminals typically carry out courier fraud by cold calling their victim, claiming to be a police officer or bank official to gain their trust, and saying that there is a problem with the victim’s bank account or that help is needed with an investigation.

The crooks’ aim is to trick the victim into handing over money or their bank card to a ‘courier’ who will often come to the victim’s home address, perhaps by taxi or Uber.

Surrey Police received 409 reports of courier fraud in 2019, although in 278 of those cases the vigilance of residents and bank staff meant nothing was taken.  The total recorded loss was £1,807,925 – meaning the average amount for those who did lose money was around £14,000.

In recent cases in the county, callers have claimed to be Martin Rose, Martin Anderson, DC Gillingham or DC Plough from Aldershot or Hounslow Police Stations, or Hammersmith Police.

The majority of courier fraud victims are elderly, with 79% of Surrey victims aged 75 or over.   The police say that more often than not victims live alone, and are specifically targeted because of this.

DCI Andy Richardson, head of the force’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “We are seeing many more cases of courier fraud across the county. We want to warn residents to be vigilant, and to enlist the public’s help in making sure they talk to elderly friends and relatives about this crime.

“We are working hard, alongside other forces and national bodies, to understand the sophisticated methods and techniques employed by these fraudsters so we can not only catch the ‘courier’ in the act but also trace the organised criminal gangs behind the crime.

“The latest intel is that taxis and Ubers are frequently used to transport couriers from train stations to their target areas, so I would ask drivers to be particularly alert and contact us about any suspicious passengers.”

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer, said: “Behind all of the clever tricks and ever-changing narratives, there are a few basic recurring elements that are common to all courier frauds.

“Here’s what you need to remember: your bank or the police will never call and ask you for your full PIN or full banking password, ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them or ask you to transfer money out of your account.

“It pays to stop and think any time you receive a request for personal or financial information. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about what you’re being asked to do, never hesitate to contact your bank or financial service provider directly, using a number you trust, such as the one listed on your bank statements or on the back of your card. Alternatively, ask a trusted friend or family member for advice.”

The force’s ongoing campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud, Operation Signature, is aimed at ensuring that vulnerable victims of fraud receive prevention advice and support from an officer.  These include helping them switch to an ex-directory phone number, contacting family to suggest a power of attorney, mail redirection, advice on call blocking, and referrals to other support services.

DCI Richardson added: “Courier fraud victims often put their losses down to what they consider their own foolishness, and therefore don’t report the crime to us out of embarrassment. This distressing crime – where a criminal has often stood on the victim’s doorstep – robs victims of their confidence and sense of security as much as their money.

“I would appeal to people to report this crime. Firstly, because we can provide bespoke support to ensure you don’t become a victim again. I can assure you our officers will be sympathetic and understanding. Secondly, because it helps us build up a picture of the latest criminal techniques, something which is invaluable in tackling courier fraud.

“If a crime is in action, so you’re awaiting a courier, or on your way to meet someone to hand over cash or cards, always call 999.”


(Graphic from Surrey Police)