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Arrests in courier fraud probe

Three people suspected of tricking pensioners out of their savings have been arrested during morning raids in Birmingham. 

West Midlands Police teamed up with officers from Warwickshire and West Mercia forces to execute warrants on Monday (2 July) at addresses linked to Courier Fraud − a scam that sees con artists pose as police and bank officials to steal cash or credit cards. 

Officers forced entry to one house in Stechford where a 31-year-old man was arrested, while another man aged 27 and a 24-year-old woman were detained at their home address in Yardley. 

All three were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering; they have been released under investigation pending further enquires and will return for more police questioning at a later date. 

It’s suspected they are linked to a spate of phishing calls made to homes across the region in which offenders purport to be detectives claiming the target’s bank account has been hacked. 

Courier Fraud often involves tricksters advising victims to call their bank to block the account but, because the sly thieves don’t hang up the phone, victims unwittingly divulge bank details to the offenders. 

Detective Inspector Kerrie Martin from West Midlands Police’s Economic Crime Unit said victims in the region have collectively lost at least £110,000 to Courier Fraud already in 2018. 

She added: “It’s a really callous crime as offenders deliberately look to target older people − often people suffering from dementia − as they are easier to deceive. 

“We’ve had almost 70 reports of this type of con so far this year but we suspect it’s far more rife: some people may not realise they’ve been conned, some feel too embarrassed to report it, while others will have realised it’s a scam, hung up but not alerted police. 

“Courier Fraud emerged as an issue back in 2014 but after we raised awareness of the con and jailed several people its popularity among fraudsters seemed to wane. 

“However, we are starting to see an upturn in reports so people need to be on their guard." 

An 82-year-old woman from the Finham area of Coventry was hit by Courier Fraud on 31 January and talked into buying two watches − valued together at £15,700 − from a city centre jewellers before handing them to what she was told was a ‘police courier’. 

And another 82-year-old woman from Meriden was persuaded to withdraw 8,000 Euros and hand it over following a Courier Fraud call on 12 April. 

Det Insp Martin said: “Fraudsters will say whatever it takes to persuade victims to hand over cash or valuables. The Coventry lady was told she needed to buy the watches as part of an undercover police operation. 

“That may seem pretty far-fetched but these offenders can be very persuasive and they purposefully go after people they believe will be more susceptible to their lies. 

“Our message is simple…police officers or genuine bank officials would never ask you to divulge PIN numbers over the phone or send couriers round to collect cards or cash. If you receive a call requesting this, hang up and contact police." 

Det Insp Emma Wright, Head of the Economic Crime Unit for Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police said: “We’re committed to protecting vulnerable people from harm. The effects of Courier Fraud not only include financial loss but also often a loss of confidence, feelings of embarrassment and, in some cases, serious effects on the health of those targeted. 

"These crimes are not easy to investigate as offenders operate across police force boundaries and take every effort to avoid being identified. Today’s arrests are the result of detailed investigations, forming part of Project Prospero − an Alliance campaign to tackle telephone fraud by targeting offenders and protecting the public." 

If you’ve been a victim call your bank and cancel your cards immediately − try to call from a different phone if reporting it immediately after being contacted by someone you believe was a scammer − and report it to police on 101. 

Please share this message with elderly relatives, friends and neighbours to help protect them from fraud. 

Fraud should be reported via Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or 0300 123 2040 − but if the crime is still in progress or has just happened (and you have handed over details or valuables) then contact the police to report this on 999 or 101. 

And anyone who suspects someone is involved in Courier Fraud is urged to call the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111; callers don’t have to leave their name and calls cannot be traced.