Twelve held in Blackburn tenant benefit scam probe
Twelve people have been arrested amid concerns that unscrupulous landlords have stolen welfare benefits from homeless people.
Lancashire Constabulary suspect vulnerable tenants have been forced to hand over their Universal Credit and bank cards in return for accommodation.
"This means they never see or have ownership of the money they are entitled to," said police.
The suspects are wealthy individuals who own properties in Blackburn.
Fifty police officers were involved in dawn raids at seven locations in Blackburn as part of Operation Cactus.
They arrested eight men and four women, aged between 20 and 59.
Detectives said they believed vulnerable people with drug and alcohol issues may have been coerced into signing over their benefits to the person or people they rent their property from.
Det Supt Mark Vaughton said: "The alarm bells started ringing as soon as we found the fact that the occupants of those premises don't have their bank cards, don't have access to their Universal Credit, and as a result it's leaving them short financially.
"Some of those individuals have had to turn to crime as a result of that exploitation."
Police are also investigating allegations that some of the suspects have fraudulently claimed a total of £500,000 in disability benefits.
A number of alleged victims have already contacted the police but officers believe there may be more and urged people, or their relatives, to come forward.
The investigation, operated by the force's East Lancashire exploitation team, is being carried out with support from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Insurance Fraud Bureau.
Det Sgt Stu Peall from the exploitation team said: "We appreciate that you may feel apprehensive, concerned or scared to make contact. But it is really important that you tell us what has happened."