CALLOUS conmen who prey on vulnerable people and dupe them out of cash are being targeted by police.

Zephyr, the regional organised crime unit at Avon and Somerset Police, is warning people about the increasing threat of courier fraud following several high profile incidents across the South-West.

Unscrupulous fraudsters have conned 15 victims in Somerset already this year, and in one instance a victim lost £34,000.

Perpetrators contact potential victims - who are normally elderly - by telephone and are encouraged to withdraw cash, which they are then asked to send to London by taxi or via a courier, who will collect the money from their home.

The culprit claims the money is potential evidence for an investigation. The money is needed so that it can be forensically examined.

Elderly people are reminded that police officers will never ask for bank details or send a courier to collect cash, while taxi drivers are urged to be vigilant when asked to transport packages.

DCI Will White said: "We really don’t know the extent of this extremely worrying problem.

"It is possible that the thousands of pounds which have been demanded and lost and the sums that we have been prevented from being surrendered may only be the tip of the iceberg.

"It is possible that some victims may feel too embarrassed, ashamed or humiliated to come forward and report that they have been duped.

"We would like to hear from these people, so that we can establish how widespread this particular crime is and so that support and advice can be provided."