Speaking at the London Watch Show last month, DC Jim Egley urged retailers to be on high alert in light of a new wave of crime called Courier Theft, in which watch purchases are being used to take advantage of elderly and vulnerable people.
A member of Operation Sterling, which is part of the fraud team at New Scotland Yard, DC Egley told the audience at his London Watch Show seminar about a new watch scam being flagged up by jewellery and watch crime intelligence-collecting and sharing service SaferGems. The scam, of which there have been 3,500 since January 2011, is targeting elderly victims.
The information about the crime comes from the Metropolitan Police and reveals that criminals are contacting their victims by telephone, pretending to be from either the police or the victim’s bank or card issuer. The scammer talks their victim into helping them investigate criminal activity occurring in a specific watch retailer, which the criminal suggests, for instance, relates to watches or money going missing.
To do this, the victim is asked to purchase a Rolex watch from the store using his or her own credit card. The scammer on the phone says the individual will be refunded after the watch is purchased.
The watch is then collected from the victim, using taxi firms or other courier services, which aren’t usually connected with the crime, and of course the money goes unreturned. DC Egley says: “Rolexes are a very tradable item and people always want to buy them, which makes them a popular choice for thefts.”
He explains that although the victim’s willingness to purchase a Rolex with their own money on this basis does not necessarily make sense to most people, the chosen victims are often vulnerable and are persuaded that they are helping with an important cause and that they the request being made of them is above board.
Both the police and SaferGems are circulating information and advice urging retailers to be vigilant if they are approached by someone who wants to purchase an expensive watch who does not match “the usual profile” of common purchasers. The statement reads: “Many older persons, who have been the victims thus far of this scam, are not the normal people going into stores to buy watches. The age of the victims seen so far ranges from 56 to 91 years of age.”
If retailers do spot a watch purchase that raises their suspicions they are being asked to contact the police.
“Operation Sterling would like to make retailers aware of this new fraud getting people to buy-high value watches,” says Egley. “Also the bank or police will never ask for PINs or bank cards and will never ask people to make purchases for them.” Staying alert to unusual high-end watch purchases could be key to preventing further crimes.
If you have any information or queries, you can contact Operation Sterling on 0207 230 1228 or Sterling@met.police.uk
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of WatchPro.
To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.