A PENSIONER who was repeatedly tricked into giving away thousands of pounds to criminals purporting to be from her bank has warned others to be cautious when answering calls – after being ‘too embarrassed’ to initially tell her family about being conned.

The 87-year-old, who did not wish to be named, chose to speak out as part of South Yorkshire Police’s ongoing Operation Signature, which was formed as a result of rising cases involving fraudsters targeting vulnerable residents.

The widow, from Ardsley, suffers from multiple sclerosis and was hoodwinked into believing a call from her bank, NatWest, was genuine.

Criminals tricked her into thinking there had been ‘suspicious activity’ relating to her account and, as a precaution, advised her to transfer £4,200 to another account in June last year.

“They rang to explain all this in great detail and even arranged a taxi to pick me up to take me into Barnsley town centre,” she told the Chronicle. “Luckily the bank took me to one side as they were suspicious about the withdrawal and a police officer came before it was too late.”

However, when police looked into the incident, it became clear that the pensioner had been a repeated previous target and had lost £1,500 on three separate occasions before.

“I have two sons but didn’t want to tell them at first, so I chose to stay quiet and keep it from them,” she added. “I did that because I was worried, embarrassed I’d let them take advantage of my trust.

“Trust is the biggest thing – when I got calls from someone saying they were from my bank, I had no reason to disbelieve them. They knew things about me but it’s important people just put the phone down to avoid the same as what happened to me.

“It was only on the occasion when the bank’s staff took me to one side that I knew that it wasn’t their policy to call their customers. I simply did not know beforehand and trusted what the criminals told me.”

Operation Signature has been rolled out by police across the town – focusing on protecting those deemed to be at high risk of fraud – which has seen each of Barnsley’s six neighbourhood policing teams tasked with advising vulnerable people about the potential pitfalls of fraud.

Andy Foster, protection officer for financial-related matters, admitted that fraudsters’ activity remains a ‘serious concern’ for officers in Barnsley.

“Courier fraud such as this happens when criminals telephone a potential victim, claiming to be from their bank, the police or other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

“We’re seeing hundreds of cases on a monthly basis – it’s an epidemic and it’s something forces struggle to prevent due to its nature. Money, once it’s gone, often goes from one place to another so it’s difficult to trace.

“I’ve seen in the past how shocking it can be and some people have lost their entire life savings as a result of being conned by a caller.

“In this case, the pensioner was a repeat victim who was preyed upon because she was vulnerable but we believe many victims opt against reporting costly crime simply because they’re embarrassed.

“Banks or the police will never ask anyone to withdraw cash or ask for security details so please be on your guard if you receive a call from ‘your bank’ or from someone claiming to be from the police.

“I would advise anyone receiving unsolicited calls via their home phone to contact their telephone provider and ask them if they provide a free call-blocking service.

“Alternatively, call-blocking devices and replacement telephones with call blocking software pre-installed are available to buy.”