February 2020 - Police say they have arrested more than 40 people in a crackdown on courier fraud involving over 3,000 victims. Police have reported that there has been a recent significant increase in these cases with total losses reported to the police of over £12 million. There are reports of individuals losing significant sums of money to these scams, such as a couple losing nearly £1million of their life savings and pensions and one victim losing £400,000.
It is reported that the police have managed to seize assets such as cash, jewellery and high-value designer goods.
What is Courier Fraud?
Courier fraud involves people being tricked into handing over cash to fraudsters posing as police, bank staff or couriers.
The fraudsters contact people by phone, often targeting the elderly, pretending to be a police officer or from the victim’s bank or another law enforcement authority. They offer easily obtainable snippets of personal information about the victim to gain their trust. They then trick the victim into handing over their PIN and agreeing to hand over their debit or credit card to a ‘courier’. A fraudster will then show up at the victim’s house pretending to be the courier sent by the bank or police.
On the phone call, the fraudster may use the following stories to try and trick their victims:
- The victim is told there is a corrupt member of staff in their bank or Post Office branch and the police need the victim’s help to investigate and identify them. They will convince the victim that he/she can help with the investigation by handing over money or their bank card and PIN to a courier. The victim is told that the police or bank will mark the money then put it back into the banking system to help them identify the corrupt person. Of course, the money/card is not couriered to the bank or the police.
- The victim is told to purchase an expensive watch, or other high value item, to try and identify counterfeit goods. They are then told to hand this item to a courier for transfer to the police.
- The victim is told their bank account has been taken over and they need to transfer all the funds from that account into a ‘safe account’ set up by the caller. This account is operated by the fraudster who then steals the money.
The fraudster tells the victims that the money they have handed over will be returned or they will be reimbursed for the purchase of high value items, but the fraudster will disappear never to be heard from again.
As fraudsters become more sophisticated and technology more innovative, this is a timely reminder that less complex scams are still in operation and causing substantial losses to victims.
Below are a few of the key tips to follow in order to avoid falling victim to such scams:
- Don’t assume a phone call is authentic just because someone knows your name and address or other publicly available information.
- Be suspicious of out of the blue phone calls supposedly from your bank or a law enforcement authority - if something sounds suspicious it probably is and it is always best to err on the side of caution. If in doubt, hang up and contact your bank on the number you have for them using a different phone (as the fraudster may remain on the line after you hang up).
- A bank or the police will never call you to ask you to verify personal details and will never ask you to give or verify your PIN number. They will also never ask for cash or your card and PIN to be handed over to them.
What can you do?
If you find yourself the victim of fraud then usually the first port of call will be to report it to the police, and specifically to Action Fraud which is a national fraud and cybercrime centre set up and run by the police. However, in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting your money back, it is often advisable to seek advice from a civil lawyer at the same time as, if not before, reporting the matter to the police. That is because the main objective of criminal proceedings is to see the perpetrators caught and punished, not compensate the victims.
One benefit of civil proceedings is the ability to apply for ancillary orders, such as proprietary injunctions, potentially giving victims a claim over assets seized/restrained by the police. This can be especially important in scenarios where the police seize/restrain cash which it is very difficult to trace back to specific victims. However, as in this instance the police have reportedly seized jewellery and other high value assets – not just cash – it is hoped that the task of tracing assets back to victims will be more straightforward and successful.