Detective Constable Mark Tait, from Northumbria Police’s Crime Department, was on patrol in North Shields town centre when he became aware that an elderly woman was trying to buy £600-worth of Amazon gift vouchers.
After striking up a conversation with the 78-year-old, she told in Det Con Tait that this was not the first time she had purchased vouchers for someone else. In fact, earlier that day, she had already made a similar purchase of £1,000 from the same shop.
She explained she had been contacted by a company who told her she had won £200,000 and had to pay a fee of £3,000 in vouchers to reclaim her prize. She was instructed to send the details of the vouchers to a messaging app in order to receive the money.
Detective Chief Inspector Alan Cairns, from Northumbria Police's Priority and Organised Crime team, said: “Sadly, these despicable scams which target the elderly and exploit their vulnerabilities are not rare.
"All too often we see hard-working, trustworthy people sending money to these criminals who take advantage of their good nature.
“As a Force, we are working hard to make sure we help educate all members of the community about how to keep their money safe and how to avoid falling victim to scams like this. We want to make sure people are able to spot the signs and recognise when they are being targeted.
"It was very fortunate Det Con Tait was on hand to assist and prevent the victim from buying more vouchers which would have ultimately ended up in the wrong hands. His actions were smart, quick-thinking and had her best interests at heart - everything we expect from our front-line officers. His conduct is a credit to the Force."
Following the incident, the woman was accompanied to the station where she gave a statement and an investigation into the scam was launched. Advice was also given to the store to ensure they understood the potential risks around selling high value vouchers to the elderly.
Det Chief Insp Cairns added: “We would ask family members, neighbours or anyone who is in contact with an elderly resident to be aware of bogus callers and scams such as this. Common tactics often employed by fraudsters include asking people to buy vouchers, such as iTunes or Amazon, pretending to be from HMIC or the BBC asking for a television licence fee.
"Remember, no reputable company will ever ask you for money, your card details or vouchers. If in doubt please contact ActionFraud. And remember, if you think something is too good to be true, it probably is."
* Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, can be contacted by calling 0300 123 2040. Or visit their website at https://www.actionfraudalert.co.uk/Contact