A TOTAL of 28 people in Avon and Somerset have been duped out of a combined total of £127,224 through courier fraud, according to police.

The figures have been released by City of London Police, the national lead force for fraud.

Throughout January Avon and Somerset Police have been supporting a national campaign to raise awareness of courier fraud.

A three week campaign led by the National Economic Crime Centre was a combination of awareness raising and enforcement activity and is the first phase of activity to combat fraud.

All 43 forces in England and Wales have been supporting January’s Operation Radium.

Nationally since November 44 people have been arrested on suspicion of courier fraud.

Over the past two years there have been more than 3,000 victims of courier fraud reported nationally with losses believed to be around £12 million.

Victims are predominantly over 60 years of age with the most targeted demographic being women between 80 and 89.

Courier fraud is where con artist call someone, pretending to be a police officer or bank official, warning that there are corrupt bank staff, intent on stealing their money, and ask for their help.

Typically, the caller then tells the victim to withdraw a sum of money and a courier is sent to collect it.

The ultimate aim of the call is to trick them into handing over money or their bank details.

Common techniques used by the fraudsters include telling the victim to withdraw large sums of cash or go and buy high value items.

Sometimes they instruct the victim to leave their bank cards in an envelope somewhere safe.

In all cases, a ‘courier’ will then come and pick up the cash, expensive item or envelope on 'behalf of the police or bank'. They will often come to the victim’s home address.

Last year a taxi driver in Somerset thwarted a courier fraud incident when he became suspicious when taking a woman to the bank.

His taxi had been pre-booked – allegedly by the woman’s relative – but after the cabbie discovered the woman was planning to withdraw a large sum of money when she got to the bank, he became suspicious.

He alerted bank officials who advised the police and the large cash withdrawal was stopped.

Police advice people never to discuss their finances with anyone who calls out of the blue, even if they claim to be a police officer or a representative from a bank fraud department.

If you know someone who may be vulnerable to this type of offence, speak to them and share the police's crime prevention tips and remind them of the threat from telephone fraudsters.

People who receive a call on their landline and are asked to contact their local police station or bank to verify the caller’s details ideally need to put the receiver down and not touch it for five minutes, just in case the fraudster has kept the line open.

Ensure you have a dialling tone before re-using. Ideally use another phone such as a mobile phone or a neighbour’s phone and use 101 to verify the call.

Taxi drivers who are asked to collect parcels – especially from elderly – should be vigilant and contact police if they are suspicious.

DS Louise Sinclair, of Avon and Somerset Police’s Complex Crime Unit, said: “Victims of courier fraud tend to be elderly, living alone and trusting of the police and other official organisations.

“It is important we all play our part in protecting these vulnerable members of our community, informing them this type of crime is happening and encouraging them to report any attempts of courier fraud – successful or not – to Action Fraud and the police.

“As a force we have been happy to support Operation Radium and will continue to do all we can to create a hostile environment for would-be fraudsters."