ALMOST 100 police officers raided 10 homes across Bolton after investigators uncovered a suspected benefits fraud worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Fraud investigators had carried out a covert surveillance operation before yesterday’s dawn raids across Bolton.

Five men and two women were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud, and police seized documents, including passports and visas.

Government officials believe members of an organised group of fraudsters have been making false claims for crisis loans and pocketing more than £20,000. Insp Bob Cantrell, who was in charge of one of the raids, said: “People committing benefit fraud are taking money out of every honest taxpayer’s pocket.

“In times of austerity, people committing this kind of fraud mean that everybody else has to suffer.”

It is thought the group, who are all Hungarian nationals but in the UK legally, met at a house in Bolton to organise their activities.

Investigators suspect the men and women have been claiming on behalf of children and partners that do not exist using forged documentation and bogus addresses.

Some of them are believed to have claimed loans for addresses in Preston despite living in Bolton — then collected the cash from the JobCentre office in Preston.

The investigation was triggered when administration staff at the JobCentre reported suspicious activity on a number of claims.

Crisis loans are available from the Government for people who are in desperate short-termneed of cash due to an emergency or disaster.

They can be for any amount, but the claims under investigation are for about £500 each.

Some of the suspected false claims were for help moving house when there is no move.

The investigation was carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions.

DWP fraud investigator Bob Gallagher said fraudulent benefit claims are a national problem.

He said: “We will be making every effort to ensure any fraud is dealt with and referred to the judicial system.”

Dozens of police officers from Greater Manchester Police’s tactical aid unit targeted the 10 addresses yesterday.

They were in Calder Road, Great Lever; Bashall Street, Bolton; Bromwich Street, The Haulgh; Parkinson Street, Deane and Salisbury Street, Deane.

The other addresses raided were all in Halliwell: Utley Street, Wordsworth Street, Blackbank Street and two in Halliwell Road.