What is courier fraud and how can you protect yourself from it?
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Cases of courier fraud continue to make headlines - but how do scammers manage to do it and what can people do to protect themselves?
At the beginning of the month, three elderly Essex couples were conned out of more than £29,000 by courier fraudsters, who were labelled "callous and despicable" by police.
But this was far from an isolated case. Police believe courier fraud is grossly under-reported, usually because people are embarrassed and ashamed to have fallen victim to the crime.
So what exactly is courier fraud?
Fraudsters typically cold call victims, normally pretending to be either police officers or bank officials.
Examples include suggesting that some money has been removed from a victim's bank account and staff at their local branch are responsible.
Fraudsters also claim suspects have already been arrested but the 'police' need money for evidence.
Some victims have also been told a business, such as a jewellers or currency exchange, is operating fraudulently and assistance is required to help secure evidence.
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The victim is then asked to withdraw large sums of cash or instructed to buy expensive items.
A 'courier' will then come to collect the cash or items on behalf of the 'police' or 'bank', often visiting the victim's home address.
Sometimes people are encouraged to call their bank using the phone number on the back of the card.
But the scammers keep the line open at their end, so when people make the call, they're unknowingly connected straight back to the scammers or their associates.
Then the scammers will ask for the PIN or ask people to key it into their phone, before sending a courier round to pick up the card.
What are the police saying?
Speaking after the recent Essex incidents, DS Michael Evans, of Clacton CID, said: “These criminals are callous and despicable, taking advantage of people’s trust to take their life savings.
“I ask people to please be vigilant, as these fraudsters are very persuasive.
“Police officers, law enforcement agencies and banks will never ask you to send money, bank cards or other personal property via a courier, taxi or other means.
“They will also never ask for your bank account details or PIN over the phone, so please don’t disclose these to anyone.
“Challenge anyone who asks you for this – a genuine caller will not mind. If you are suspicious the caller is not genuine, end the phone call.
“Wait at least five minutes to ring your bank to check with them the validity of the call, or use another phone, as fraudsters can wait on the line.
“Report any suspicious calls to us so we can investigate."
Operation Radium was launched in January 2020 in an effort to stop people handing over thousands of pounds to courier fraudsters, and has seen some success.
Police made 100 courier fraud arrests from January to September 2020.
Essex Police working with Kent Police through the serious crime directorate, made 26 of those arrests up to September, and a 24-year-old man was jailed in October for his part in a series of frauds.
Albino Chaves was involved in a number of frauds in March and April 2020 when conmen contacted elderly victims claiming to be from their bank.
Chaves, of Bentry Road, Dagenham, admitted nine counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and three of conspiracy to defraud.
He was jailed at Chelmsford Crown Court on October 27 for two years and four months.
Spot the signs
1. Someone claiming to be from your bank or local police force calls you to tell you about fraudulent activity but is asking you for personal information or even your PIN to verify who you are.
2. They’re offering you to call back so you can be sure they’re genuine, but when you try to return the call there’s no dial tone.
3. They try to offer you peace of mind by having somebody pick up the card for you to save you the trouble of having to go to your bank or local police station.
What can be done to combat courier fraud?
The official advice from police is as follows:
1. Your bank or the police will never call you to ask you to verify your personal details or PIN by phone or offer to pick up your card by courier. Hang up if you get a call like this.
2. If you need to call your bank back to check, wait five minutes, fraudsters may stay on the line after you hang up. Alternatively, use a different line altogether to call your bank.
3. Your debit or credit card is yours, don’t let a stranger take it from you. You should only ever have to hand it over at your bank. If it’s cancelled, you should destroy it yourself.
For more advice on identifying the signs of fraud, click here.