Organised begging gangs are preying on the city’s visitors and shoppers, snatching money from people at cashpoints.

Police have confirmed they are trying to stop teams of Romanian women – often pregnant or with young children in tow – who come to Oxford to beg for money.

Dressed in peasant-like clothing they give people a sob story in broken English – claiming they need money for food and milk for their babies.

Last night, Sgt Claire Storry urged members of the public not to hand over money to the beggars who come to the city from Slough on buses and trains.

She said: “They are targeting foreign students and visitors.

“We want to raise people’s awareness and urge them not to give money to the beggars. They live in Slough and come and beg and steal stuff. They try to hassle people at cashpoints and steal money.

“Yesterday, we heard they had snatched £50 notes from two Japanese or Chinese tourists.”

Begging is an offence under the Vagrancy Act of 1824 and if officers see someone begging they can arrest them.

Sgt Storry said the beggars were generally spotted at least once a week in tourist and shopping hotspots including Queen Street, Cornmarket Street, Broad Street and High Street.

On Sunday, officers arrested three women, a 21-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old, on suspicion of theft.

They have been bailed with a condition not to return to Oxfordshire.

Sgt Storry urged witnesses, or other victims to come forward, adding: “It is a problem all year round, they are not here every day because they alternate between different cities.

“They are well known for it all over the country.

“When people have their purses open wanting to give them money they delve into purses to take it.

“Most of them are dressed in fairly typical Romanian clothing, long flowing skirts, they have long hair and most of them tend to be quite chunky.

“They pretend they can’t speak English and sometimes they get the children to take money.

“We end up playing cat and mouse with them because they know where the CCTV cameras are.”

In a message to the public, she said: “Don’t give them any money.”

l Anyone with information about the beggars should contact police on 08458 505505 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.