ELDERLY people from across the North-East have been swindled out of their life-savings by fraudsters posing as police officers and bank staff.
Dozens of people have been duped out of thousands of pounds by callous conmen using a telephone scam known as ‘vishing’.
An 83-year-old woman, from Darlington, has lost £6,000 in the last week, and in Durham City recently three women in their 70s and 80s have handed over a total of £26,000.
Detective Inspector Traci McNally, of Durham Constabulary, said: “This appears to be part of a national scam, but clearly there are now a number of victims in the North-East region who have been targeted.
“In many cases the victims are elderly and vulnerable and have lost their life savings.”
Victims are called by men or women who pose as either police officers or as employees at the fraud department of their bank.
They are told their bank account has been compromised and they need to withdraw their money immediately and put it somewhere safe to prevent the money from being transferred out of their account.
The victim is persuaded to transfer their cash into what they think is a ‘safe holding’ account when in reality it is controlled by fraudsters.
Once the victim transfers the money into the new account, it is then withdrawn.
On some occasions the fraudster persuades the victim that the only means of keeping their money safe is to allow the police to send a courier to collect it.
People have lost savings of more than £10,000.
Det Insp McNally said: “Sadly, the fraudsters are very persuasive and have been very skilful in convincing victims to transfer their money.
“In some cases the fraudsters have been female and have been so plausible that they gained the trust of the victims.”
A 74-year-old woman, from Durham City, was defrauded of £10,000 by a man pretending to be from the police's Serious Fraud Office in London.
On another occasion an 80-year-old woman, also from Durham City, was defrauded of £9,000 by a man claiming to be from the fraud department of her own bank.
In the Sunderland area, a man was persuaded to withdraw £6,500 from his bank and hand it to a courier who came to collect it.
The victim was also contacted by somebody pretending to be a police officer from the fraud team in London.
There have been victims across Darlington, County Durham, Tyneside and Wearside over the last few months and the fraudsters are being hunted by the North-East Regional Special Operations Unit . Last week, a man from the London area was arrested and is currently on bail.
Police said several other arrests have been made in connection with the inquiry.
DI McNally said: “I would urge the public to be vigilant. If you are contacted by somebody purporting to be from the police or the fraud department of the bank then terminate the call and check directly with your bank.
“The safest way to do this is by physically going into the branch of your local bank.
“Protect yourselves and protect your family members from becoming victims of this type of crime.
“If you, or a member of your family, has been a victim of this type of fraud, or has been approached by a fraudster attempting to gain funds from their accounts, please dial 101 and report this to your local police force.”