Police officers fighting so-called courier fraud have achieved some notable successes in jailing gang members, but the fraudsters are evolving their tactics and still stealing huge sums from victims.
The crime involves criminals posing as police officers or bank staff to persuade victims to withdraw savings, and then sending couriers to pick up the money. In 2019 there were 1,903 reports of the crime, last year that number had shot up to 3,266, according to nationwide data compiled by the City of London Police.
In 2019 the amount lost by victims was £6.5million, in 2020 it had become £14.1million.
An officer who helped smash a courier fraud gang sums up the criminals with a single word: “cowards”.
“It’s a despicable crime,” said Detective Inspector Mark Peters of West Mercia Police.
“They are picking on old people, they’re cowards.”
DI Peters led Operation Panga which resulted in nine culprits being convicted.
In May, the North London ringleader Ismail Sarwar, 23, was jailed for four years and 10 months, and accomplice Zhaigham Kiyani, 27, got four years.
The offending that took place over one month was described as “ferocious” by DI Peters.
“In Herefordshire we took out two couriers in one day and on that same day further couriers were sent up to continue the offending,” he said.
“That’s when it feels relentless, you feel you are having an impact and then you find out more couriers are ten a penny.”
The key to bringing down the gang was intelligence of frauds in progress, sometimes reported by alert bank staff, or concerned taxi drivers taking confused passengers to the bank to withdraw cash.
“It’s a dynamic situation unfolding chaotically before you, and you intervene when the best opportunity presents itself, taking into account the safety of officers and the public,” he said.
One courier, 23-year-old Ibrahim Mahmood from North London, rammed a police car while trying to escape and was jailed for two years and five months.
Mobile phone data revealed the scale of the crimes, showing that over one month the gang made 1,925 calls to 1,100 numbers.
Once they thought they had a potential victim they were ruthless in pursuing them, calling one Hereford number 144 times and a Shrewsbury number 134 times.
“Some of these elderly people were losing multiple thousands of pounds, and when the gangs get that bite and had a result they will re-victimise that individual, it’s absolutely sickening,” said DI Peters.
“We had a case of that, they got 12 grand off one victim and came for another eight, all under the guise of claiming to be the police and saying ‘there’s been some interference with your account, we need to secure your money for you’.”
Officers also recovered a recording of the scammers phoning a target.
“I’m sure many people wonder how victims are sucked in by this but when you listen to that call you would think you are talking to a police officer,” he said.
“They are absolutely on the money, it is really convincing, there’s police jargon, they’ve clearly done their research. I have to say, it shocked me.”
Despite the success of Operation Panga, DI Peters says: “I don’t personally think we can arrest our way out of this, I think the answer is education.”
Police forces are using multiple outlets from newspapers and radio to social media to warn about courier fraud, and are also urging the public to alert potentially vulnerable relatives and neighbours to the dangers. The message is simple: the police will never ask you to withdraw money from your bank and account and hand it to them. Ever.
Officers also warn about a favourite tactic used by crooks who phone claiming to be police officers or bank staff.
They’ll tell the victim to put down the phone and then call the bank or the police to check their credentials.
But the crooks will not have ended the call, so when the victim re-dials they end up unwittingly speaking to another member of the gang.
After any suspect call, the advice is always wait five or ten minutes or use a different phone to check a caller’s identity.
Another strand to the publicity campaign is the “Take five” message, encouraging people to take a moment to think about anything they are being asked to do, and seek advice from family and friends if in doubt.
That is sometimes easier said than done, as another case shows. The lies used by this group of courier fraudsters were particularly vile, even by the standards of this horribly prevalent crime.
The victim, a woman of 73, was phoned by someone claiming to be a police officer from London.
The caller was working from a finely-tuned script and was utterly convincing in his role as a detective.
He persuaded his victim that her bank account had been compromised and to safeguard her savings she needed to withdraw the money, which would be collected for safekeeping by a police courier. The caller said that staff at her Barclays branch were under suspicion, a lie designed to stop her asking the bank for advice.
Another lie was even nastier. The caller said that her account was being used fraudulently by two males, possibly relatives.
That left the poor woman doubting whether she could even trust her family.
The crook, having first phoned her landline, then called her mobile number and kept her on the line as she went to her bank as instructed and asked to withdraw £8,600.
Keeping her on the phone was another tactic designed to stop her from calling anyone else for help or guidance, but it proved to be the undoing of the crook.
Her husband became suspicious and put the phone on speaker and the bank staff overheard the caller instructing her to say that if the bank asked why she wanted to withdraw the cash, to claim it was to buy a car.
The staff gave her a leaflet warning about courier fraud and West Mercia Police were alerted.
When the crook went to the victim’s house wearing a hi-vis jacket, instead of coming away with the couple’s money he was arrested by waiting officers.
Now 27-year-old Abdulaziz Guthmy, from Islington, North London, has been jailed for three months for fraud, plus 21 months for drugs offences after heroin with a sale value of almost £25,000 was found in the BMW he was driving (uninsured and without a licence), along with £11,000 in cash.
After the sentencing, Detective Sergeant Mal Normandin of West Mercia Police praised the couple for contacting the force.
He said: “Although victims of such crimes frequently feel embarrassed, it should be recognised that it can be easy to fall victim to such fraudsters, particularly when they are purporting to be police officers investigating a serious crime.
“All members of the public should be mindful of these scams and be aware that police officers will never ask you to transfer, withdraw or hand over any cash to a courier.”
Work by police forces around the country fighting courier fraud is co-ordinated by the City of London Police, which is so concerned by these gangs that it has made tackling them a priority for 2021.
“What makes it particularly nasty is that they are well aware of the age group they are targeting,” said Dan Parkinson, Temporary Detective Inspector at the City of London Police.
“They talk to them on the phone, build up that relationship. There’s a callousness that the victim can find very hard to understand.
“I’ve heard victims say nobody would do that to another person. They cannot understand, because they are decent people, how another person could do that but there’s a complete lack of any sort of morals.
“I’ve dealt with burglars who’d say ‘I’d never do a dwelling, I only do commercial properties because I’ve got standards’, with this its driven by greed and a callousness about who they are targeting that makes it a really unpleasant crime.”
His colleague Detective Sergeant Robert Mellor said: “Some people will lose a relatively small amount of money, although it might be everything they have – two or three thousand pounds – and other people will lose significantly more.
“What we know about organised crime groups committing fraud is that they will not just take the money and run, they will keep coming back until either the victim has realised or someone has realised on their behalf that they are a victim of fraud, or there’s simply nothing left to give.
“With the sort of people we’ve seen targeted for courier fraud, elderly people, they might have a lot or very little money but we know that courier fraudsters like other fraudsters are never satisfied so whatever the loss in money it will have a huge impact on that victim. “
One of the biggest courier fraud operations to be smashed resulted in 18 convictions. The final case has recently been heard at Worcester Crown Court, resulting in the jailing of 26-year-old money mule Claudio Megi from Cardiff for two years for money laundering.
“Without individuals like Megi, who are happy to receive proceeds of crime from vulnerable victims, these offences could not take place,” said Detective Inspector Emma Wright of West Mercia Police after the hearing.
The three gang leaders who were each jailed for six years at earlier hearings were Mohammed Hadi, 37, and Nuno Pestana, 41, from London, and Rejwanul Islam, 28, from Dagenham, Essex.
The gang netted around £230,000 from 60 victims aged 40 to 96 living in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Cumbria, West Midlands, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Thames Valley.
DI Wright described how identifying their phone numbers proved to be a breakthrough.
“If you can identify a phone number they are using you can identify who that phone is calling,” she said.
“If the calls are lasting longer than a few minutes they may have hooked a victim.”
It wasn’t easy, with the gang using multiple phones and repeatedly changing numbers, but it led to the arrest of two couriers in Ludlow, Shropshire.
“From those arrests we were able to quickly identify other people we thought were involved, and then more slowly build together the whole web from courier up to the people making the phone calls to victims, across to the mules receiving the money and to the people coordinating them,” said DI Wright.
She warned that a new trend in courier fraud is for gangs to ask victims to buy gold bullion or coins, which has the advantage for the criminals of being less easy to trace than banknotes.
They are typically spun a line about how the money in their bank account is at risk and they should withdraw it and buy the gold, which will be collected for “safe” police storage while an investigation takes place.
“They are told that their accounts have been compromised, if they don’t move the money either by withdrawing it as cash, transferring it or buying something valuable that can be kept safely, they will lose their money,” said DI Wright. “And they’re told in doing this they are helping the police investigation.”
West Mercia Police is investigating the case of a victim has lost almost £300,000 after being persuaded to buy gold bullion with her savings. It’s thought that the victim handed over the gold to couriers acting for bogus police officers in two batches of around £150,000.
West Mercia Police are piecing together the details of the horrendous crime, which began with a call from a fake officer using the name PC Angel and also involved gang members posing as bank staff.
Leicestershire Police reported earlier this month that a woman in her 80s handing over gold coins worth more than £40,000 to fraudsters.
She was initially phoned by a fake police officer on May 11 who said that her bank card had been fraudulently used by her grandson. When she said she did not have a grandson the story changed to her card must have been cloned.
Follow up calls were made by someone claiming to be from her bank, who wormed his way into her trust over the following weeks.
She bought the coins, which were collected from her home on June 25, and only realised it was a fraud after talking to her bank this month.
“These types of fraudsters often target the elderly and vulnerable,” said Paul Wenlock of the force’s Economic Crime Unit.
“Please speak to family members, neighbours and friends and pass the message on so they do not fall victim.”
Officers believe that education is vital to protecting the public from courier fraud.
Social media is used to target younger people, encouraging pass on the key message to older relatives that the police will never ask you to hand over money or bank cards, or buy gold, watches or jewellery.
This message is repeated in venues such as doctor’s surgeries and council venues.
Bank staff are encouraged to be alert to the warning signs, such as an elderly customer withdrawing large amounts of cash, as are taxi drivers who might suspect that they are unwittingly helping facilitate a courier fraud.
Jewellery stores have also been encouraged to report suspicions, such as a confused customer buying an expensive Rolex, since some gangs now coax victims into buying and handing over jewellery and watches.
And if you are targeted by courier fraud, report it immediately.
DS Robert Mellor of City of London Police said: “If someone believes they are the victim of courier fraud and have arranged a meeting with a courier then that’s not a call to Action Fraud or 101, that’s a 999 call, because that’s when we can put into place an immediate response to not just safeguard the victim but that represents one of our best chance to get that evidential material.
“We encourage anybody from a victim to taxi driver who thinks something’s not right to dial 999.”
#rhoa #maatiedtomedicine #couplescourttv @couplescourttv #gregoryevans #dating #datingscams #onlinedating #romance #romancescams #sexoffenfer #fakeprofile #fakeprofiles #boyfriends #cheaters #cheatingwife #swingers #swingercouple #pof #fakeprofile #cheatinghusband #scams #love #lovescams #worsedates #sex #ncs #metoomovement #metoo #muterkelly #activist #metoo #donaltrump #sextrafficking