THREE men were arrested in London yesterday (August 19)  when detectives raided three properties following a scam in which vulnerable elderly people in the South West were conned out of almost £1million.

The arrests came with the help of Zephyr, the organised crime unit for the South West after a three month investigation.

More than 300 people were victims of the elaborate fraud but police believe there were many more victims who were too embarrassed by the scam to have reported incidents.

One individual handed over £40,000.

Around nine out of 10 people contacted were over the age of 60, and were duped out of various cash sums.

Three 18-year-old men were arrested after searches in separate properties in the Tower Hamlets area of East London.

DCI Will White of Zephyr said: “Monday’s arrests should provide some reassurance that we are working with colleagues in forces in the south west to tackle this despicable form of crime which preys in the main on the elderly and vulnerable.

“We hope it also sends a strong message that we will target those who prey on the elderly and vulnerable. We will find out who you are and come for you.

“It is possible that some victims may feel too embarrassed, ashamed or humiliated to come forward and report that they have been duped. We would like to hear from these people.

“The more we talk about this scam and the more people who are made aware of it, the less likely that they are to become victims.

“If you have elderly and vulnerable relatives, neighbours, colleagues and friends warn them to be vigilant and on their guard for telephone calls of this kind.”

Police are appealing to relatives and friends of the elderly and vulnerable, taxi companies and drivers and banks and other financial institutions to help prevent the crimes.

The perpetrators contact potential victims – who are normally elderly - by telephone, pretending to be a police officer.

They are then encouraged to withdraw large sums of cash, which they are then asked to send to London by taxi or a courier, or by electronic transfer of large amounts to a fraudulent bank account.

The culprit claims the money is potential evidence for an investigation and that it is needed so it can be forensically examined.

Another scam involves someone claiming to be a London-based police officer, who informs the victim that two people have been arrested in the capital.

When arrested they had in their possession, bank cards which contained details of the victim.

The victim is asked to call the bogus officer and is given a false collar number and telephone number But the phone is not replaced and callers believe they are calling a police officer.

Victims are then encouraged to provide private banking details or withdraw cash. DCI White added: “The police and the banks will never ask you for banking details or PIN numbers on the phone.

"Similarly, they would never send a so-called ‘courier’ to collect bank cards or money.

“In previous incidents the victims did the right thing when they became suspicious of callers.

“They hung up the phone and called the police.

“They waited until they could hear a dialling tone or used a different phone to call us, ensuring that the scammers weren’t still connected to the line.