Vulnerable and elderly people are being targeted by scammers and coerced into spending thousands of pounds on designer watches and other expensive purchases in a new type of courier fraud.

Harrods and Watches of Switzerland say their staff have repeatedly prevented people from spending large sums of money they were being coerced into giving to fraudsters waiting for them outside. The stores say that the problem has become so serious that the shops have ordered their store detectives to not only be on the look out for thieves, but also watch out for shoppers who appear to be making purchases against their will.

Watches of Switzerland even has a document that they hand to any shoppers they think look distressed and could possibly be talking to a scammer on the phone. Security staff hand the possible victim a series of questions about why they are making the purchase, this gives the victim the opportunity to alert staff to what they are being subjected to by a scammer.

Most of the scammers have convinced their victims that they are police officers who are investigating the sale of counterfeit goods. One victim of such a scam, who did not want to be named, told The Times Money how he lost £55,000 to a fraudster who persuaded him to withdraw cash and go on a spending spree before being stopped by a Harrods store detective. The 74 year old was called by the con man who claimed to be a Police officer investigating counterfeit money at his bank and he needed the elderly victim’s help.

He was persuaded to withdraw £10,000 in cash in two instalments from a cashier at NatWest and £20,000 in two instalments from a different branch. He followed the fraudster’s instructions and told cashiers that he was helping a friend to buy a caravan. On each occasion he handed the money to what he described as a young Asian man waiting outside the branch.

The fake PC then claimed that he was investigating counterfeit watches. He persuaded his elderly victim to buy a £25,000 watch at the Regent Street branch of Watches of Switzerland and then hand the item to him outside the shop. When he went to buy another £25,000 watch at the Knightsbridge branch the next day suspicious staff refused to serve him, so he was persuaded to walk to Harrods, not realising that security staff from the watch shop were following him. When he reached the department store the staff alerted the elderly gentleman to what was really going on and police were called.

What is Courier Fraud?

Courier Fraud occurs when you are called by someone pretending to be from your bank, building society or police and convinced to tell them your card details over the phone. They arrange for a courier to pick up your card to take it away for evidence or to have it destroyed. In reality, the card is collected by the fraudsters to withdraw money from your account.

Protect yourself and others:

  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 your card or 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. Do not let a stranger take your card. You should only ever have to hand it over at your bank. If it’s cancelled, you should destroy it yourself.

Spot the signs

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.

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.

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.

How it happens

You may get called on your mobile or landline by someone who claims to be from your bank or the police. They say their systems have spotted a fraudulent payment on your card or it is due to expire and needs to be replaced.

They might suggest that you hang up and redial the number of their bank or police force to reassure you that they’re genuine. However, they don’t disconnect the call from the landline so that when you dial the real phone number, you’re still speaking to the same fraudster.

They’ll then ask you to read out your credit or debit card PIN or type it on your phone keypad. They may ask for details of other accounts you hold with the bank or elsewhere to grab more information.

Then they promise to send a courier to you to collect your bank card. The fraudster will have your name, address, full bank details, card and its PIN, and withdraw cash using the card and may even use the information to commit identity fraud in your name.

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