VULNERABLE people across the country are now getting extra protection against scammers thanks to the initiative of a Forth Valley officer.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have been defrauded by bogus callers who tell their victims that they owe money and convince them to purchase gift cards in order to repay this.

The caller typically claims to be acting on behalf of a legitimate organisation, such as HM Revenue & Customs, and says that they have outstanding debts which require immediate repayment.

The person is then advised to purchase iTunes vouchers, which can be bought from most local supermarkets, so this repayment can be made.

Each gift card has a unique serial number that the victim is told to give to the scammer and which is used to take the money from the gift card remotely.

After a number of incidents locally, including a man in his eighties from Alloa losing over £3,000, Forth Valley's crime prevention officer PC Bryan MacKie took steps to follow up on the actions of one supermarket that prevented the man from losing almost half as much money again.

He said: "In total, the man handed £3,300 worth of voucher codes to these fraudsters who threatened him with an arrest warrant if he didn't pay.

"Fortunately, staff at one store became concerned after he tried to buy further vouchers and intervened. The vigilance of staff undoubtedly saved this man from losing thousands more.

"Working with local supermarkets, we developed preventative measures such as a till prompt which asks staff to make further checks with the customer if they are trying to buy vouchers in bulk, or over a certain value.

"If staff remain concerned, they can give appropriate advice or contact police."

Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury's and the Co-Op all took up the initiative locally and the prompts are now used at stores throughout the UK.

PC MacKie said: "Within weeks of these measures being introduced, an elderly man was prevented by staff at a supermarket in Falkirk from losing £250 to scammers through the purchase of iTunes vouchers.

"All of the stores have been very supportive of putting mechanisms in place to try and prevent their customers from falling victim to these scams and from parting with their money under false pretences.

"It's really encouraging to hear that these interventions are already helping people, not just in Forth Valley Division but further afield as well.

"In January, we were made aware that staff at a store in Northallerton prevented three people from being defrauded of a total of £1,800 because of this.

"I want to extend my sincere thanks to all those who have given their time and energy to this initiative. Forth Valley Division will continue to work with partners to find new and effective ways of protecting people from criminality, especially those who are elderly or vulnerable."

Anyone can fall victim to a scam, but there are simple steps that can be taken to guard against would-be con artists.

PC MacKie added: "I would urge everyone to remain vigilant when they receive an unexpected call.

"Remember that a legitimate company will never demand money or threaten you with further action if you do not pay immediately - if you have any outstanding debts, there will be forewarnings. They will also never ask you to pay for their services or transfer money using gift cards or vouchers.

"If you receive such a call, even if it seems to be from a genuine number, hang up. Find a number for the company online, or in previous correspondence with them, and call them back on a different phone to verify the claims being made before taking any action.

"These criminals prey on people's fears and vulnerabilities and, as well as the monetary loss, becoming a victim of such criminality can have a huge impact on a person's confidence, especially those who are elderly or have vulnerabilities.

"Please help us spread the word about these scams and make sure that your friends and loved ones would know what to do in the event of such a phone call."