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Warning over coronavirus scammers claiming to ‘help people through outbreak’

PUBLISHED: 13:06 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:27 18 March 2020

Opportunist scammers are preying on vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak. People are being asked to remind their friends and relatives of the dangers Picture: Angela Sharpe

Opportunist scammers are preying on vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak. People are being asked to remind their friends and relatives of the dangers Picture: Angela Sharpe

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Scammers targeted an elderly man in Norfolk claiming they were helping people through the coronavirus outbreak.

James Bensly is worried about people being more vulnerable to scams during the coronavirus outbreak and also about people turning to online gambling  Picture: Liz CoatesJames Bensly is worried about people being more vulnerable to scams during the coronavirus outbreak and also about people turning to online gambling Picture: Liz Coates

The man was contacted by a cold caller claiming to be from ‘Southern Electric’.

The caller said they would visit the resident’s home at midday and, in exchange for a cash payment of £520, a credit of £5,000 would be put onto the resident’s electricity bill ‘as part of us helping people though the Coronavirus outbreak’.

The incident on Tuesday March 17 prompted Norfolk Trading Standards to issue advice.

It said on its Facebook page: “If you receive this or a similar call our advice is do not give or confirm any details and hang up.

“Never hand over large cash payments or purchase gift cards to access larger amounts in return or refunds.”

The warning comes as a borough councillor and cafe owner voiced his fears for vulnerable people stuck at home with so much off limits.

James Bensly, whose borough council ward includes Hemsby, said he was concerned self-isolators were more vulnerable than usual to fraudsters offering something that looked “too good to be true”, and about the perils of online gambling.

Mr Bensly, said opportunist scammers would be looking to feed off the vulnerable who were stuck at home with time on their hands, possibly feeling anxious or demoralised, and hopeful of a quick fix.

“They have direct access to people’s homes,” he said.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for scammers because they know people are scared and vulnerable.

“Nine times out of ten they will offer you something that is too good to be true just to get you to disclose information.

“These gangs are heartless.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk Police said: “We would always advise people not to give out personal details over the phone.

“You should never give out your personal credit card or debit card details.

“Do not assume a phone call is authentic just because someone may know your name and address.

“Fraudsters will deliberately target older people so we would advise friends, family and communities to keep an eye on those who are more likely to be vulnerable to this kind of scam.”

Alice Barnes, safety and fair trading manager at Norfolk County Council Trading Standards said: ““We’re seeing an increase in scammers using coronavirus as a ‘hook’ to try to tap into people’s concern about the situation.

“As ever we would urge everyone to treat every cold call with a sense of caution and to be wary if they receive an email out of the blue, particularly if what is being offered seems too good to be true.

“People can sign up to our alerts warning about the latest scams at www.norfolk.gov.uk/scams and also follow Norfolk County Council Trading Standards on twitter or facebook where we post updates on the latest scams we’re made aware of. If you do need to use a trader, search for one you can trust at www.norfolk.gov.uk/trustedtrader.”

You can report suspicious telephone cold calls to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on freephone 0808 223 1133.


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