Essex residents are being urged to watch out for telephone tricksters

ESSEX residents are being urged to remain vigilant against telephone tricksters following an increase in incidents across the county.

Thieves posing as police officers or bank officials have called 270 people since January, and attempted to obtain bank account and credit card details.

The vast majority of attempts failed but 38 of the victims fell for a variety of false stories and lost sums ranging from a few hundred pounds to £22,000.

In some of the successful crimes the tricksters told people that they had been the victim of fraud and police needed bank account numbers or debit or credit cards for forensic examination. Couriers are being sent to collect cards which are quickly used to obtain cash or buy valuable items from major stores.

In one recent case at Leigh a man was told by a bogus caller that police investigations had found that money in his bank account was counterfeit. He was asked to withdraw £4,000 for ‘tests’ but never saw the money again after tricksters said that they had found the notes were ‘fakes’.

The scam is believed to have originated in the Met police area where more than 2,000 incidents have been reported. They started in Essex earlier this year and were mainly in the west of the county near to the border with the Met.

Now the tricksters have been working further into Essex and incidents have been regularly reported across a wide area across the south of the county and as far north as Colchester and Braintree.

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Following an extensive publicity campaign in Essex, including coverage on TV, radio, newspapers and websites, most of the potential victims have quickly became suspicious and put the phone down.

But detectives are still extremely concerned that the fraudsters might continue to use different stories to trick people or simply try to pester victims into giving away their bank details.

DS Neil Hudson, who is leading a team of officers investigating the frauds, said: “There has been a considerable amount of publicity and community appeals to warn people about these potential scams.

“The fact that 270 people have been contacted and 38 have lost money shows that the warnings have had a considerable effect. But some elderly or vulnerable people are being tricked by these thieves.

“These criminals are using a wide range of different stories to convince their victims that their bank accounts have been tampered with. The case at Leigh is an example of how they convinced a man to withdraw money from his bank after tricking him into thinking that his savings were in counterfeit notes. They persevered for three days with repeated calls before the man gave them any cash.

“The victims tend to be vulnerable or elderly people, ranging in age from 70 to 90, although some much younger people have been targeted. We would urge everyone to be on their guard and if you have elderly relatives to make sure that they are warned about these despicable crimes.”

Anyone with information about the thieves or anyone who has been approached by suspected fraudsters should contact the Operation Seaford investigation team at Grays on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.