The police warned people to be weary of phone scammers who haves targeted people in Herts and five other counties during a prime-time episode of Watchdog last night.
Victims are phoned by someone claiming to be a police officer or bank worker investigating fraudulent activity on their bank account. Often the elderly or vulnerable are targeted.
Once they have convinced the victim they are who they say they are, they persuade them to disclose personal information. They then instruct the victim to send them bank cards and money via a courier.
The scam often involves asking the victim to phone another number. Then the scammer do not hang up the phone, which enables them to stay connected to their victim for up to two minutes as the other number is dialled.
Another scammer will then pretend to be from another organisation, such as a bank, and offer the same piece of advice.
This will usually be to send debit and credit cards or cash to an address – often in London – via courier.
Watchdog presenter Anne Robinson said: “It’s clever, it’s complex and even the smartest have been taken in by it.”
Even Mary Berners-Lee, 90, who helped create the world’s first commercial computer and is mother to world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, was taken in by it. The con artists eventually got £3,000 from her.
Det Insp Danny Lawrence said: “We have insurance brokers, we have teachers, we have ex-police officers being duped into this.
“On one recent warrant, we recovered a book titled How To Talk With Confidence. They work at this, they practice this, they have done this a lot of times.
“I can understand that the idea of someone being told to go and withdraw cash out of the bank is ridiculous. But they are thoroughly convinced that this is the right thing to do.”
So far 10 people have been arrested for the phone scam.
Anne Robinson last night interviewed fraud prevention officer Tony Blake about what was done to stop it from happening in the future.
She said: “The nub of the problem seems to be that two-minute lag whereby someone on the other end does not have to put down the phone and they can then hear what’s going on.
“Why don’t you get the telephone companies to turn a switch and stop that?”
Mr Blake responded that the lag is due to be cut to two seconds by summer 2015, but could not be done any earlier than that.