A HIGHLY-ORGANISED criminal gang is being hunted by police after conning vulnerable pensioners out of more than £300,000 in just ten days.
Sophisticated fraudsters have so far carried out four audacious scams within a quarter-mile radius of Comely Bank – as well as one further failed attempt.
It’s just so convincing. He knew more than I did about how much was in my account.
All scams have involved Royal Bank of Scotland accounts and police are now working with the bank as the inquiry continues.
In the latest incident, a 73-year-old pensioner was stripped of £122,000 after answering a call from the gang, who convinced him they were from the RBS fraud department.
Over the course of more than a dozen phone conversations, the elderly man, who asked not to be identified, was persuaded his account had been tampered with and that he needed to transfer its contents elsewhere in order to safeguard it.
He eventually moved around £82,000 into an account chosen by the con artists following more than a week of repeated calls.
Then – in what police described as one of the first incidents of its kind in Scotland – the criminal gang sent a female courier to his house twice to collect a further £40,000 in cash. Their elaborate ploy saw them give the pensioner a special code that the courier would repeat – before taking the money off his hands in a shoe box wrapped in sellotape.
Speaking to the Evening News, the devastated victim said he felt “absolutely stupid about the whole thing”.
He added: “I’ve heard so much about people that commit frauds one way or the other. But he was just so insistent and seemed to be genuine. It’s the first time I’ve had experience of this. It’s just so convincing. He knew more than I did about how much was in my account.”
The pensioner said alarm bells only started to ring when he read about a similar “vishing” crime in the Evening News last week.
We told how a 90-year-old widow was tricked into handing over her £49,000 life savings when she was contacted by the gang also claiming to be from the RBS fraud team.
And earlier this month, a woman in her 60s from nearby Ravelston was robbed of more than £50,000 in similar circumstances.
Police said they believed all the incidents were linked and that they were dealing with an organised crime gang “operating at the highest level”.
They said the scams shared similar traits – including the use of RBS and the targeting of vulnerable elderly people who live alone in the Comely Bank area.
Chillingly, the fraudsters also gave the impression of being able to watch their victims on CCTV as they finalised the bank transfers.
They called up the elderly targets while they were in the bank and asked them what they were wearing – something their victims took to be a precaution.
And the 73-year-old man told how the con artists had even given him a fake story to tell branch staff if they asked him why he was withdrawing so much money.
By pretending to be from the RBS fraud team, the callous criminals planted fears that a bank employee could be the one interfering or fiddling with his account.
Detective Inspector Arron Clinkscales blasted the cruel fraudsters as “despicable” – and vowed to hunt them down.
He said: “In the space of ten days they have managed to con over £300,000 from innocent members of the public within a quarter-mile radius in the heart of Edinburgh.
“They actively seek out and prey on someone’s goodwill and their ability to trust before callously stealing their life savings, often within seconds.
“It’s truly staggering and we are absolutely determined to arrest these criminals as quickly as possible. They are extremely intelligent and this should not be underestimated.
“They will often use technology to their advantage such as creating an app to give them a cloak of respectability but it’s a scam.
“They may claim to represent a bank or even the police but crucially they will always ask you to transfer money or take cash out of your account. This is the whole point of this crime, and something which neither a bank nor the police would ever ask you to do.
“I urge anyone who is approached by an unsolicited caller to take down their details and then hang up immediately.
“Then call your bank from another phone, using a number from the phone book or official documents you hold.
“They will be able to give you advice and confirm that your accounts are secure.
“More information can be found on our website in the Personal Safety section.”
He said it “beggars belief” that RBS had allowed the unusual transfers to go through. No-one from RBS was able to comment.
A spokeswoman for Age Scotland warned elderly residents to be vigilant against potential fraudsters.
She said: “This is obviously a very distressing time for the victims of these scams.
“Unfortunately these fraudsters can be incredibly convincing and we would urge anyone being contacted and asked for personal details or to transfer money to contact the police.
“No matter how legitimate the call may seem, no bank would contact you to request you make a transfer.”
Last year, Police Scotland teamed up with the Met, six other English forces and the National Crime Agency to swoop on an organised crime gang behind an elaborate “vishing” scam which left vulnerable residents more than £1m out of pocket.
DON’T BE SCAMMED
To avoid falling prey to “vishing” scams, there are a number of precautions you can take.
The first thing to remember is that banks and the police will never ask for your pin or request you transfer money to another account over the phone.
And they would never come to your house to collect money, cards or cheques – or ask you to buy anything using your card.
Officers advise you Tto never disclose your pin, passwords and bank details to cold callers.
If you feel concerned during a call, don’t be afraid to just hang up.
Residents are also warned to be wary of cold callers who ask to be called back.
Fraudsters may keep the phone line open when you think you’ve hung up.
If you experience anything that makes you suspicious, contact police immediately on 101.
The criminals behind these scams can often be extremely convincing. It is also possible that they have access to private details about your account.