Last week I met a former police colleague of mine to catch up with what’s happening in the world of financial crime investigation.
He told me of an emerging crime that’s being called ‘courier fraud’, the basic idea has been about for a while but the number of cases is really picking up. The victim is inevitably elderly, often with plenty of funds in their bank account. They are cold-called by someone who convinces them that he/she is a police officer carrying out an investigation that involves the victim’s bank account. The victim is told to either transfer the funds held in their account to a specified account or told to withdraw cash which will be sent to London where it will be replaced with ‘clean’ money.
They tell the victim that most staff in their bank are unaware of the ‘investigation‘ due to it being highly confidential, but there is a ‘department’ who are dealing and to provide an air of legitimacy they ask the victim to ring their bank immediately. The victim hangs up but the offender doesn’t, so that when the victim rings their bank they are in fact still on the line to the offender who pretends to be the bank. To further prove their identify victims are often asked to ‘key in’ their PIN numbers on the phone key pad. An app held on the offender’s phone picks up the tone differentials and records the PIN number. They then ask for the bank cards to be sent together with the cash.
The victim is convinced to withdraw funds in cash at a bank branch and hand it over to a waiting taxi driver (unwittingly complicit) who will then courier it to London after which the victim will be reimbursed with ‘clean’ funds. This, of course, never happens. Victims continuously withdraw tranches of funds until their accounts are exhausted, in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds are involved.
These cases are challenging to investigate as they are mainly dealt with reactively following the report of a loss. There was one case where investigators became aware in advance of the handover and were able to replace the taxi driver with an undercover police officer. The taxi was directed to East London for the handover which this resulted in the arrest of an individual but has not yet led back to the organisers.
There have also been cases with a terrorist financing link.
Investigators have been working closely with banks on these cases and on the prevention side they are keen to identify opportunities to reduce the vulnerability of potential victims.
Fraud targeting the elderly; whether it’s boiler room, house repairs or this latest courier type, is an evil crime and one that I always jump on my soapbox about when I meet some fool who tries to tell me that fraud is victimless.
You can learn more about the different types of fraud with the ICA Certificate in Financial Crime Prevention.