THREE pensioners in south Essex were scammed out of more than £12,000 after being tricked by thieves who pose as police officers.

They have been the latest victims in a fraud that has been going on across Essex since the start of 2013. Since January 1 this year the thieves have made 21 attempts to steal from elderly people across Essex, though they failed to fool all but three of their targets.

On January 15, a man in his 80s in Canvey lost £5,000, on January 21 a man in his 90s at Leigh was also tricked out of £5,000 and today a woman in her 70s from Westcliff was the victim of a £2,000 fraud.

In all three cases the victims received telephone calls from men claiming to be officers from the Metropolitan Police who said that they were investigating bank account fraud. They asked their victims to provide bank cards or cash to be used for forensic examination. The cards and cash were collected by couriers using cabs from local taxi firms.

More than 550 thefts and attempted thefts have been reported in Essex since January 2013, and similar crimes have been reported in the Met Police area and other counties. More than 80 people in Essex have been tricked out of money and the total stolen is more than £286,000. Six people have been arrested in connection with the investigation.

DS Neil Hudson said "Fortunately the number of cases where money has been stolen has reduced significantly after our publicity campaigns in the media and the distribution of warning leaflets and posters.

"But some elderly people are still being tricked by these despicable thieves so it is important that everyone is always on guard against any telephone callers claiming to be from the police or a bank and asking you to send them money.

"If that happens, put the phone down, wait a few minutes until you get a dialling tone and call Essex Police to report it. Some of the tricksters call their intended targets several times in an attempt to convince them, that they are genuine callers.

"One trick is to ask people to call back or to call their bank to verify claims that their accounts have been infiltrated. But they stay on the line and when the victim thinks they are starting a fresh call the same tricksters claim to be at a police station or a bank.

"It is important that anyone who is called by these fraudsters lets us know so that we can investigate and establish which different stories are being used by the thieves and to see how they are targeting different areas.”

The Essex Police Operation Seaford team has already made a number of arrests for these offences but incidents continue. Anyone with information about the thieves should contact the team at Grays on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.