HERO pensioners Iris and Jeff Styles foiled a bid by a gang of fraudsters to scam them out of £68,000.

After hundreds of people fell victim to the so-called "courier fraudsters" nationwide, the quick-witted actions of the grandparents, from Arley, might have saved yet more from being duped.

Now detectives from Zephyr - the south west regional organised crime unit - have made three dawn arrests in London as part of an investigation into a wide-scale scam, thought to have netted £1 million or more.

A total of 77 similar crimes have been reported recently in the West Mercia Police force area, of which 17 victims handed over bank cards or money to couriers who came to their homes, netting a total of more than £20,000 for the conmen.

Mrs Styles, 78, said: "We didn't give the fraudsters any money but they're very scary and very frightening.

"They are also very plausible and told us they had been watching our home."

Retired farmer Mr Styles, also 78, was first contacted on the telephone by a man with a strong Scottish accent, claiming to be from HSBC bank's head office, on May 30.

He falsely claimed that staff at the HSBC branch in Bewdley, where the couple have banked for almost 60 years, were "siphoning" money from their account.

The caller told the couple, in several phone calls, that they must transfer £68,000 to an account with a sort code at Barclays in Kidderminster.

The man gave them a phone number on which to call him but had rigged up a system whereby he was still connected to their telephone line.

The canny couple smelled a rat - an instinct confirmed when they discussed it with their solicitors - so they reported the calls to HSBC in Bewdley and called in West Mercia Police.

"We were told the police were aware of this going on and some vulnerable people had given money away," said Mrs Styles, who recently retired after many years as president of the women's section of Bewdley Royal British Legion.

"They said there were hundreds of victims around the country and 78 in the West Mercia police area and they thought the scammers were based in London."

The couple, who have two daughters and five grandchildren, hope the information they gave to the police might have helped detectives to crack down on the fraudsters.

Mr Styles, president of Bewdley Royal British Legion, said: "The fraudsters claimed to us that staff at our local bank were under suspicion but we've known them for years and trust them.

"We hope that what we did saves somebody else from becoming a victim."

DCI Sean Paley, of West Mercia Police, praised Mr and Mrs Styles, saying: "They did exactly the right thing and they could well have prevented other people from becoming victims of similar frauds.

"People need to know that neither banks nor police will ring someone and ask for their cards and they should be savvy to take simple steps to protect themselves from similar frauds."

A spokesman for the Zephyr crime unit confirmed that Mr and Mrs Styles could well have been targeted by the same gang that had duped more than 300 people out of up to £1 million in the south west of England.

On Monday detectives from Zephyr and the Metropolitan Police swooped on three addresses in Tower Hamlets, London and three men, all aged 18, are now being questioned.

It followed a three-month investigation.

Detectives say the gang have used a variety of stories, including the one they tried in vain on the Styles.

Sometimes the scammers pretend to be police officers, persuading victims to withdraw large sums of cash, which they are then asked to send to London by taxi, courier or electronic transfer to a fraudulent bank account.

The bogus caller sometimes claims the money is potential evidence for an investigation and that it is needed so it can be forensically examined.