CAREER criminals who make a living from the black economy are being targeted in new moves to hit offenders in their pockets.

Police across Durham will be working to claw back funds from criminal activities which account for hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

Extra officers are being drafted on to a specialist investigation team probing the lifestyles of people across the county who are suspected of being involved in crime.

In addition, every operational officer, including special constables, will receive training on the new Proceeds of Crime Act, which gives police new powers to claw back ill-gotten gains.

Detective Inspector Colin Gibson, head of Durham police's economic crime unit, said: "Before the new law we had to get a conviction in the crown court before we could apply for a confiscation order.

"Now, we don't have to do this if we establish a person is living a lifestyle above their means with no legitimate form of income."

The number of detectives working exclusively on financial investigation from police headquarters in Durham is being doubled from two to four and includes a dedicated supervisor.

Four more detectives, two in the north and two in the south areas, will also operate as financial investigators.

Det Insp Gibson said: "This is all about payback."

Work at headquarters and at local level will be overseen by Detective Sergeant Simon Gray, who recently returned from secondment to the National Crime Squad.

He said: "Based on the referrals we get from out colleagues we will tailor the best response to meet the demands of individual situations.

"It's not just about making big seizures. We will look at every level of criminality."

Financial investigators recovered more than £370,000 in County Durham and Darlington between April 2003 and March 2004.

Under a formula agreed with the Home Office, the force can keep a percentage of any funds it recovers.