Britain’s pensioners are being scammed out of millions of pounds by callous conmen who are deliberately targeting the frail and elderly, including those who have recently cashed in their pension pots and are looking for something to invest in.
The fraudsters are posing as policemen and bank officials to persuade vulnerable people to hand out details of their accounts or even transfer cash themselves into a bogus account specially set up to steal the cash.
Chillingly, some of the scams have been set up to bankroll Islamic jihadi extremists, say police. Counter terrorism officers have arrested three men who are being questioned on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.
A police spokesman said: “Officers are investigating a large scale fraud linked to UK extremists travelling to Syria.
“The arrests form part of an on-going fraud investigation whereby unsuspecting vulnerable and elderly victims are cold-called on their home phone by a suspect impersonating a police officer, informing them their bank account has been compromised and deceiving victims into transferring money to an account under the control of the suspect.”
One elderly person is understood to have been conned out of £150,000 and two other pensioners – both in their 80s and from Cornwall – have lost £130,000 between them.
It is believed the cash has been used to buy weapons, ammunition and combat gear for jihadists fighting in Syria.
City of London police are warning about a property swindle which has already been used to scam millions from pensioners looking to invest in lucrative land deals.
The fraudsters buy cheap land in flood zones or contaminated by industrial waste and then cold call their victims to use high pressure sales techniques to persuade them the land will be granted planning permission for houses which will make them a handsome profit.
The City Of London force recently revealed scammers had stolen more than £9 million from pension savers in the last five months since the rules changed to allow anyone over the age of 55 to access all or part of their pension and spend it or invest it as they wish.
Former Labour social security minister Mr Field said it was already clear that fraudsters and con-men were targeting people who had withdrawn large sums of cash from their pension pots.
“The reforms have been in operation for six months now and it’s obvious this has been enough time for the scammers to get going – working on defrauding people out of their life savings,” he said.
A police spokesman said: “Investment fraud is a highly damaging offence that can have a devastating effect on people who fall into the carefully and cleverly laid traps set by the criminals.
“If you are telephoned by a cold caller trying to sell any kind of investment scheme, or any other financial product, hang up the phone and refuse to speak to them,” he advised.
This type of scam is believed to net the fraudsters more than £200 million a year.
In a new twist, the scammers are using sophisticated computer technology which can make it seem they are actually calling from your bank.
When they call their victims the number which shows up on the receiving phone matches the bank’s Helpline number printed on the back of their debit cards.
The new fraud has been nicknamed ‘vishing’ or voice phishing’. The first call claims to be from the bank advising of apparent fraudulent activity on the card. The caller then reassures the victim he is genuine by advising they will receive another call within a few minutes. When the second call is made the number displayed matches the Helpline number.
The victim is then tricked into transferring cash into a new account set to ‘protect’ it. The account is bogus, set up by the fraudsters to steal the money.