HUNGERFORD residents are being targeted by ruthless telephone fraudsters, police have warned.
They issued the alert as it was revealed that conmen posing as police officers almost duped a Hungerford woman into emptying her bank account and handing the proceeds to them.
But the intended victim turned the tables by alerting police and bank staff – and then acting as bait in a covert operation.
And so it was that, when she turned up at the Bulpit Lane rendezvous with the cash, real detectives were waiting.
The drama was recounted to Newbury magistrates last Thursday, in the same week Thames Valley Police issued a warning that town residents are being specifically targeted by organised telephone fraudsters.
During the court hearing Zainab Mohamed, prosecuting, said the intended victim, identified only as Mrs Smith, “received a phone call, supposedly from an officer at Scotland Yard who told her that her bank account had been compromised. She was instructed to go to her bank and withdraw all her money and that the ‘officer’ would collect it from her home.”
The conmen were so convincing and persuasive that Mrs Smith set off to her bank in Hungerford town centre.
But, feeling unsettled, she meanwhile called her husband, the court heard.
Ms Mohamed said: “He warned her it was a scam and told her to call the bank. She did so and they called police.”
A sting operation was hastily arranged and, when the fraudsters rang Mrs Smith to collect the money, she told them she would not meet them at her home, but at a rendezvous in Bulpit Lane.
Ms Mohamed said the fraudsters agreed and told her that “an officer from their rapid reponse team would meet her there”.
Real officers accompanying Mrs Smith moved in and arrested a single male.
In the dock on Thursday was 18-year-old Fahimul Hoque, of The Coverdales, Barking, East London.
He admitted attempting to transfer money by deception on July 31.
Scott Primmer, defending, described his client – who, ironically wants to be a banker, the court heard – as a “fall guy for a much larger, complex operation going on behind the scenes”.
He said Mr Hoque was tempted when an acquaintance offered him “easy money” to pick up the cash and added: “He has learned his lesson.”
A probation officer said Mr Hoque “realises his victim will be feeling devastated at being duped”.
After retiring to confer with colleagues, presiding magistrate Helen Gates said: “Scams of this nature are in the public eye at the moment.
“The victim would have found this very frightening and it’s lucky the police were there at the time you thought you
were going to make the collection.”
Mr Hoque was made subject to a 12-month community order with 40 hours’ unpaid work requirement.
In addition he was ordered to pay a £180 community courts charge with £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.