28 June 2024 01:00 Met operation takes down distraction theft organised gangs targeting vulnerable victims in London The success comes as part of the Met’s commitment to focusing on local policing in neighbourhoods and driving down crime that impacts communities across London.

A Met operation has reduced bank follow off crime by 75% in Ealing, Stratford and Ilford by targeting organised crime groups who steal money from vulnerable people leaving banks.

The success comes as part of the Met’s commitment to focusing on local policing in neighbourhoods and driving down crime that impacts communities across London.

The Met initiative known as ‘Bank Safe’ sees local police officers carrying out targeted patrols in areas most affected by thefts around banks, raising awareness among customers and local communities of the tactics used by thieves and detailed investigations of CCTV where repeat offenders are identified and arrested.

Organised crime gangs carry out so called follow off crime, where one thief loiters inside banks to identify victims, who are then pickpocketed by their accomplices. This type of crime is often under-reported, however, estimates show that up to 66% of victims are over 60-years-old.

Police Sergeant David James, who leads the Bank Safe project for the Met, said: “Distraction theft is a very personal crime that often has life-changing impacts on victims. In most cases, victims do not know they have been targeted and tend to blame themselves for losing their hard earned cash.

“Police operations such as Bank Safe will aid in targeting these organised crime gangs and remove them from the streets of London. Since the start of the operation, we have seen a decrease in some boroughs and intend to work towards a further reduction.

“Our specialist and local officers remain dedicated to community crime fighting and will continue to work alongside our partners and local communities to drive down bank follow off crime and stop these gangs re-offending.”

Catriona Still, Head of Fraud Prevention & Training at the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime unit, said: “The DCPCU have been working hard to combat branch follow off crime and have trained over 400 branch employees in high risk areas across the UK in the past 12 months alone.

“The joint collaboration between the DCPCU and Met Police has prevented customers from having significant values of cash stolen from them.

“The banking industry is committed to preventing crime and we will continue our efforts to protect consumers and stop these crimes from happening in the first place.”

John McGeachy, Age UK London said: “With older people more likely to bank in person than other age groups, it’s particularly insidious to target them in this way as they leave the bank with their cash.

“Being a victim of this, or any other type of crime can have serious consequences for people’s confidence and mental health.

“We welcome the police’s efforts to stamp down on this crime and ensure people can bank with confidence and in safety.”

The Bank Safe project was set up in 2022 in response to the level of follow off crime increase. Specialist officers work to gather intelligence and dismantle the organised gangs. Meanwhile neighbourhood officers’ work with local partners such as DCPCU, Finance industry, Age UK, local authorities and banks to raise awareness and educate local communities on bank follow off crime to ensure they remain vigilant when entering a bank.

As part of our New Met for London plan, we are determined to focus on local policing to fight crime that matters most to Londoners Our local officers will continue to work with communities and partners to dismantle organised gangs and reduce repeat offending.

It is important that victims or witnesses contact the police as soon as a theft occurs – the first hour after a theft takes place or the ‘Golden Hour’ is critical to capturing thieves.

You can play a role too, Look Up, Look Out to make yourself less vulnerable to personal theft and: 

  • Stay aware of your surroundings and pay attention to who’s around you. 
  • Keep cash in a secure bag or a hard to reach pocket out of sight. 

It is important that victims and witnesses report a theft as soon as it happens and contact the police by dialling 101 or 999 in an emergency.