SCOTTISH businesses and individuals have been duped over the phone or email in to handing over £7 million in less than a year.

Detectives are investigating 19 cases that have taken place since last July conning people through emails, phone calls or text messages in scams known as “phishing, vishing and smishing”.

Each incident has seen criminals using genuine-looking phone numbers or email addresses and claiming to work for a bank or company that needs to verify the victim’s bank account details or personal information.

Once these are obtained, the fraudsters empty accounts of money – with £7 million stolen in 19 cases since summer 2017.

The toll of vishing comes on top of an £18m haul criminals conned out of a blue chip company in 2016. That crime took place after fraudsters posed as the chief executive of the company in a phone call.

Police Scotland is warning the public to be alert and aware that banks do not contact customers asking for personal information or to carry out a transaction.

Detective Chief Inspector Jim Robertson, from the Economic Crime and Financial Investigation Unit, said: “Banks will not contact businesses or individuals asking for personal information or ask you to carry out a transaction. If someone starts asking for these details end the call and contact your bank.

“If you decide to ring back and verify the call it is advisable to do so on a different phone line like another landline or your mobile. If you are still unsure, consider visiting your local branch instead of speaking to someone over the phone.”

A hospice was among a host of businesses hit by a banking scam in the Scottish Highlands last year, while Premiership football team Hamilton Academical was defrauded of almost £1 million in another high-profile scam.

Police said organised criminal gangs operating in the UK, Europe and further afield are behind the scams.

Inspector Robertson added: “People make sure that their house and cars are locked and secure, and the same policy should be adopted online.

“Simple things like making sure you use strong passwords for personal and business accounts and being wary when accessing public or open Wi-Fi can help keep people safe.”

Police stress that scammers are highly credible.

Last month a mother made a Youtube video of how she was left with just pennies in her account after being scammed over the phone.

Sarah Wood, from Edinburgh, described how somebody saying they worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland rang her out of the blue.

“It was dinner time and I was distracted by the kids so this guy knew I didn’t have a lot of time,” she said in the video

“This guy sounded really legitimate. He had my name, address and knew I was a RBS customer and I thought, ‘how else does he have this information?’

“I gave him the information and he said he would process it. The line went dead and it was horrible.

“I had a feeling of dread and went into my mobile app and saw my account wiped clean of all money.

“I had £400 in my account and now have 76p to feed two children.”