POLICE across Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire have launched a campaign to warn vulnerable people of the threat of courier fraud.

Zephyr, the regional organised crime unit, is urging residents to be aware of a complicated scam which has left some elderly people thousands of pounds out of pocket.

In the South West, more than 200 cases have been reported including one which saw a resident hand over £40,000 to fraudsters.

The perpetrators contact potential victims, who police say are normally elderly, by telephone. They are then encouraged by the fraudster using an elaborate and convincing reason to withdraw large sums of cash, which they are then asked to send to London by taxi or via a courier, who will collect the money from their home.

The culprit claims the money is potential evidence for an investigation and that the money is needed so that it can be forensically examined.

Another scam, which has been used on residents in the Chipping Sodbury area, involves someone also claiming to be a police officer based in London, who informs the victim that two people have been arrested in the capital. When arrested they had in their possession bank cards which contained details of the victim.

The victim is asked to call back the bogus officer and because the fraudster does not replace his phone, the unsuspecting victim speaks to him and is encouraged to provide private banking details and may also be asked to withdraw cash.

DCI Will White, of Zephyr, said: “We really don’t know the extent of this extremely worrying problem.

“It is possible that the thousands of pounds which have been demanded and lost and the sums that we have been prevented from being surrendered may only be the tip of the iceberg.”

Around nine out of 10 people who have been contacted are aged 61 years or over.

In Avon and Somerset, 15 offences have been recorded with one victim losing £34,000. Two men from London have been arrested in the force area in connection with courier fraud. They have admitted offences and have been released on court bail to await sentencing.

In Gloucestershire, 21 offences have been reported. Three men from London aged 23, 22, and 18 have been arrested in connection with courier fraud in the county. They have been released on police bail, pending further enquiries.

DCI White added: “The police and the banks will never ask you for banking details or PIN numbers on the phone. Similarly, they would never send a so-called ‘courier’ to collect bank cards or money.

“In recent incidents the victims did the right thing when they became suspicious of callers. They hung up the phone and called the police. They waited until they could hear a dialling tone or used a different phone to call us, ensuring that the scammers weren’t still connected to the line.

“The more we talk about this scam and the more people who are made aware of it, the less likely that they are to become victims. We need people to spread the word.”