CONMEN are posing as clairvoyants to target the recently bereaved, a leading academic has warned.

Professor Keith Brown, who is based at Bournemouth University, has warned the scale of all types of fraud is much greater than we know – and between just five and ten per cent of victims are reporting crime to police.

Many of those committing scams are based in countries from which the UK has no extradition powers, with Turkey identified as a particular hotspot, he said.

"There are lots of reasons a person might not report a scam, including shame and embarrassment," Prof Brown said.

"Sometimes, people don't know they're a victim.

"If you're an elderly person in the early stage of dementia and you're sold a repeated vitamin supplement, there might be more coming out of your account than you realise, for example."

People suffering cognitive decline are most likely to fall victim to fraudsters, Prof Brown said.

However, he also warned that those who are vulnerable in different ways can also be badly affected.

"If you're looking at clairvoyant scamming, we've got people who trawl through notices about recent deaths and make contact with the recently bereaved," he said.

"They call the victim and say they can make contact with the loved one for a small fee.

"It goes on for a while sometimes and then when the victim wants to stop payment, the fraudster will say, 'Carry on paying me or I'm going to put an evil curse on you'."

There have been few prosecutions of serious fraudsters. Many of the offenders aren't based in the UK, he said.

"Criminals behind these scams look at this on a 'risk and reward' basis," Prof Brown said.

"The risks are comparatively low, and the rewards are often extremely high.

"Criminals are often based outside the UK, and that presents issues. We don’t have extradition orders for Turkey, for example.

"There's a massive challenge to police forces all over the country. The nature of the crime they're dealing with is changing very rapidly indeed.

"Criminals of this kind are fleet of foot and fast."

In the first four months of this year, 34 reports of fraud were made to police. A total of £331,682 is thought to have been lost to con artists.