The past two years has seen a dramatic rise in what security experts are calling OAP fraud, which involves criminal gangs duping vulnerable pensioners into buying expensive watches on their orders.
UK Protection, which handles security for clients including LVMH and Watches of Switzerland Group, says it has seen an increase over the past two years of a scam where gangs trick pensioners into unwittingly helping in the theft of watches.
The scam starts with the elderly person being contacted by somebody pretending to be from the police and telling them that their bank card has been cloned by a criminal gang involved in bank fraud, money laundering and violence.
The fake police caller says they can resolve the bank card cloning issue and encourages the pensioner to help in an undercover sting.
They are told to go to a jeweller and buy an expensive watch that will then be handed over to the criminals. At that point, the phony policeman says, they will swoop in and arrest the person who takes possession of the watch.
If the scam works, the criminals get their hands on what could be a £10,000 watch without ever going near a well-protected jeweller.
UK Protection managing director Andy Fairbanks, who also spent over 12 years as a police officer, says the crime is on the rise but can be almost eradicated if jewellers’ staff are properly trained. “It is down almost 90% at the stores we work with,” he says.
The key, Mr Fairbanks explains, is for staff to be aware of the scam and on the lookout for customers behaving strangely when buying expensive watches. “I have seen pensioners walk into a shop and say they want to buy a watch for their son costing £25,000. They know nothing about watches, they do not ask any questions about watches or say what they are looking for. They just say they want a watch costing £25k; any watch costing £25k. This sort of thing or anything close to it should immediately arouse suspicion,” he advises.