Five men and two women have been sentenced to a total of more than 16 years in prison after conspiring to target elderly people at supermarkets across Kent.The criminals, all from the Dagenham area, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and conspiracy to commit fraud after elderly people were conned out of thousands of pounds.
The group of fraudsters obtained Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) from the victims by ‘shoulder surfing’ at supermarket checkouts or cash machines. Typically, they would watch the victim input their PIN, then distract them in a car park using techniques such as asking for directions to the local hospital in order to steal the victim’s bank cards while distracted. Between January and March 2014 offences were reported in Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Maidstone, Strood, Rainham, Gillingham, Sittingbourne, Whitstable, Hawkinge, Folkestone and Hythe. All 12 victims were elderly people, with the eldest being 88 years-old.
Using store CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology (ALPR), detectives carried out extensive research and identified a Ford Focus and a Volkswagen Passat they believed were involved in the offences. On March 27, a day when three separate offences occurred in Kent, the two vehicles were located and stopped by Kent Police officers in Ilford in East London. The cars were searched and bank cards were found concealed behind a headlight compartment in one of the cars. The group was linked to a thirteenth offence, which occurred in Hertfordshire on March 26 2014. In all, their victims were defrauded out of more than £3,000. A member of the gang later admitted to further offences which had taken place in Hertfordshire dating back March 2013.
Judge Griffith-Jones referred to the group as an ‘organised gang’ and said that it was a carefully targeted conspiracy.
Detective Constable Helen King from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: “The common factor in all these offences was that the offenders targeted elderly or vulnerable people. The offenders worked in teams, and once they had the victim’s PIN they acted quickly to confuse or distract the victims in the car park, whilst simultaneously stealing their bank cards.
“They operated across Kent, sometimes swapping clothing to avoid detection, but we collected a huge amount of CCTV and electronic data that put them firmly in the location when the offences were taking place. When we inevitably caught up with them and our evidence was put to them they were left with little choice but to plead guilty. This has been a long running investigation but its conclusion is very satisfying and we will continue to pursue those who target the most vulnerable in society.
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Source: Kent News