Warning over fruit machines scam - Tuesday 28th of July 2009

Criminal gangs are targeting gaming machines in a new scam in Greater Manchester bars and hotels.

They huddle around fruit machines and pretend to have hit the jackpot while one gang member prises the lock and steals cash from inside.

Licensees have been put on alert after a series of incidents in the city centre and hotel bars near Manchester Airport.

Greater Manchester Police crime prevention advisor Stu Pizzey said: "Weve always had problems with vending machines because its easy money.

"It is not a huge problem yet but there are tell-tale signs that we need to act now to stop it escalating.

Vigilant

"Virtually every business has a machine of this kind and if managers let that type of crime on to their premises theyre going to let other crimes in. Were encouraging managers and members of the public to be vigilant. Be alert if theres a group around a machine. If there is a genuine win there should be the associated light and noise indicators. Alert staff to anything suspicious."

The groups of around three or four - teenagers and middle aged men - use a master key or pliers to prise the lock and are targeting both gaming and vending machines such as those in club toilets.

Police have received reports of offences in hotel bars near Manchester Airport and in pubs and clubs in the city centre. They believe they are copycat crimes following a spate of similar offences on Merseyside. Licensees are being encouraged to install tamper alarms on machines and step up CCTV monitoring to identify the offenders.

Phil Burke, of the Manchester Pub and Club network, said: "We want to make people aware of this problem before it escalates. We are asking licensees to be cautious and make sure the right measures, such as CCTV, are in place to help prevent this.

"If members of the public see a group of people around a machine and notice any suspicious behaviour they should discreetly inform door staff, bar staff or management. Dont put yourself in danger by approaching them - theyre using desperate means to get money and probably dont care about injuring anyone who gets in the way."

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