Watch it: Vulnerable pensioners are being tricked into buying expensive jewellery and handing it over to criminals
Vulnerable pensioners are being tricked into buying expensive jewellery and handing it over to criminals posing as policemen in a terrifying new scam.
In one case seen by Money Mail, a 79-year-old man lost more than £50,000 after fraudsters fooled him into buying two Rolex watches, which they then collected from his home in Lincolnshire.
The criminals had convinced the man he was helping with a police investigation into counterfeit jewellery, and had promised him the money would be reimbursed.
The victim’s bank, Santander, initially refused to cover his losses because he had authorised the payments — but refunded £25,000 after Money Mail intervened.
The Rolex scam is the latest version of a ruse known as ‘courier fraud’. Con artists typically pose as a bank or the police to convince victims their account has been compromised.
The bank customer is told that in order to safeguard their money, they must withdraw a large amount of cash and give this to a courier who will be sent to their home.
Sometimes they are told to give their bank card and PIN to the courier instead. There were 911 reports of courier fraud between October 2015 and September 2017, according to figures from the City of London Police.
But experts warn the true number of victims could be even higher as many people are too embarrassed to come forward.
The majority of incidents involved victims handing over cash and bank cards. But police say they are now hearing from people who have been tricked into buying expensive jewellery and watches.
Henry Peters, a retired Post Office and shop owner from Lincolnshire, lost most of his life savings after being called out of the blue in March by a trickster claiming to be from Scotland Yard.
The caller told him someone had tried to use his Santander bank card to buy a £500 laptop in London, but that the bank had blocked the transaction after suspecting it was fraudulent.
After Henry confirmed he had not made the purchase, the caller said he was now going to transfer him to someone in the fraud squad, as they needed his help with an investigation.
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In one case, seen by Money Mail, a reader who used to be an EDF customer was asked to pay £2,978.
The fraudulent email demands ‘prompt payment’ and encourages the reader to click on a link to view the invoice.
The sender appears to be EDF Energy — but in fact the message comes from an unrelated Yahoo email address operated by con artists.
If you receive the fake bill, do NOT click on this link. An EDF spokesman says: ‘We never request customers’ personal information or seek to take payments through email. There is advice on our website to help identify fraudulent contact.’
A fake police inspector, who called himself Sergeant Woodley, came on the line and said he had reason to believe that a local jewellery store was selling counterfeit Rolex watches and asked if Henry would be willing to help bring the culprits to justice.
Keen to help protect innocent shoppers, Henry agreed and was told he needed to visit a jewellery store around 30 miles from where he lived and purchase a Rolex watch costing about £25,000.
The conman suggested he invent a back-story before buying such an expensive piece of jewellery — such as telling the shopkeeper it was a present for his grandson’s graduation.
He was also warned to keep his mobile on him because he might need to call Santander to confirm the unusual payment if his card was declined.
Henry was assured that the £25,550 would be put back in his account immediately. Once he had the watch, Henry was told, he should call Sergeant Woodley and read out the serial number and model number of the watch.
When he did this, the fake police officer told him the watch was a counterfeit and that he would send a courier to Henry’s home to collect it. Henry says: ‘The inspector inferred that someone in the jewellery shop was involved and said they had been making frequent trips to China.
Confidence trick: The Rolex scam is a type of crime known as Courier fraud in which con artists typically pose as a bank or the police to convince victims their account has been compromised
‘The whole time I was in the store I kept looking around at people, genuinely worried that they were buying fraudulent goods without realising.’
After buying the watch, Henry received a call to say the funds had been put back in his account.
He called the bank to make sure. He says he got the impression that the money had been returned, although Santander says Henry did not ask specifically about the balance of his account.
The fraudsters then sent a courier to his bungalow, where he lives alone, late that night to collect the watch.
The next day he received another call from the supposed Sergeant Woodley thanking him for his co-operation and asking if he would do them ‘a massive favour’ by buying another watch. So Henry went back to the jewellers.
To avoid raising suspicion, he told the shop staff that his son had seen the watch and given his father the money to buy one for himself as well.
After paying £25,050 for the watch, Henry called in the serial number, as before, and was told that it, too, was a counterfeit.
The fraudsters sent a courier that day for the watch and told him the money would be back in his account within 24 hours. But when Henry checked his balance the next day he discovered £50,600 was missing.
He immediately called Scotland Yard which could find no trace of a Sergeant Woodley. When he rang his bank, Santander said they couldn’t cover his loss because he had made the purchases.
And because he no longer had the Rolex watches, he couldn’t get a refund from the shop.
This scam may sound far-fetched, but criminals such as the fake Sergeant Woodley can be convincing. James Daley, of Fairer Finance, says: ‘These scams are incredibly sophisticated and the perpetrators are very persuasive. Even the most switched-on of people can be caught out.
‘Pensioners are often targeted because they are more likely to have money in the bank and are at home to answer the phone call. They can also be more trusting.’
Henry, who has two sons in their 40s and whose name Money Mail has changed to protect his identity, says: ‘I feel like the biggest fool on earth. I can’t believe I told all those lies to the jewellery store, thinking I was helping Rolex and their customers.’
A spokesman for Santander says: ‘When Mr Peters contacted Santander after purchasing the first watch, the limited information he provided did not raise suspicion with our call handlers.
‘But on review, we consider that the call could have been handled better. Taking account of this, we have decided to reimburse Mr Johnson for the second payment as a gesture of goodwill.’
Inspector Jo Reeves, head of cyber crime for Lincolnshire Police, says: ‘As part of our investigation we have been completing work with jewellers and Rolex, the watch maker, to ensure that should these watches appear for sale, we are made aware.’
After alerting Rolex to the scam, the firm refused to comment on the case, saying only that it was sorry it had happened.