Hitchin ‘charity collector’ who attempted to con 77-year-old woman out of £2,800 jailed for 14 months

Karl Smith was arrested and charged after he attempted to cash a £2,800 cheque, written by the victi

Karl Smith was arrested and charged after he attempted to cash a £2,800 cheque, written by the victim and then altered, at a Hitchin bank. - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin man who posed as a charity collector in an attempt to con a 77-year-old woman out of thousands of pounds has been jailed for 14 months.

Karl Smith was sentenced at Cambridge Crown Court on Monday after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation.

The 46-year-old from Freemans Close befriended the woman between September and October last year, falsely claiming to be a charity collector.

On October 12 he attempted to cash a £2,800 cheque at a Hitchin bank. Staff became suspicious and informed the police.

The cheque, written by the victim, had been altered. Smith was arrested the same day and later charged.

Smith had already been jailed for 15 months after being convicted of a similar offence back in 2010.

In that case he had befriended a 75-year-old man suffering from dementia and tried to make him withdraw £2,600 from the Stevenage branch of HSBC.

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On that occasion also, bank staff caught him out – Smith said on one occasion he was the man’s carer, and on another claimed to be the boyfriend of his granddaughter.

In summing up and sentencing on Monday, the judge declared that Smith had deliberately targeted the victim due to her age and mental frailty.

The incident was investigated by officers from Herts police’s Operation Manhunt, which deals with distraction burglaries, frauds and other crimes against the elderly.

PC Tony Bradshaw, from Operation Manhunt, said: “Karl Smith ruthlessly targeted his elderly victim and preyed on her good nature in order to try and fraudulently obtain a large sum of cash, under the pretence that it would be going to good causes.

“Thankfully, vigilant staff at the bank raised the alarm as soon as they became suspicious and Smith was quickly arrested. I am pleased that he is now behind bars.

“Whilst I would not want to discourage anyone from giving to worthy causes, I would always urge people to be cautious when handing over money to people claiming to be collecting on behalf of charities.

“Genuine charities and fraudsters often use the same methods to ask for donations. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask for identification and documentation which confirms someone is collecting legitimately. You can also contact the charity directly to confirm the collection is authorised by them.”

If you suspect someone of being involved in fraud, contact the police on the non-emergency number 101. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through their anonymous online form at crimestoppers-uk.org.