Elderly and vulnerable residents self-isolating are at risk of being exploited by strangers and cold callers posing as helpful neighbours in order to scam them, the Local Government Association has warned.
The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is concerned that fraudsters are preying on the fear created by the coronavirus and the need for the elderly and vulnerable to reduce social contact.
It is urging residents not to accept services from strangers or cold callers, whether in person, on the phone or online, who offer to run errands, collect prescriptions and do shopping and ask for cash up front, or a credit card and its PIN.
An LGA spokesman said councils have already seen a number of coronavirus-related scams involving fraudsters knocking on the doors of the elderly and impersonating either council officers or health officials offering mandatory coronavirus testing.
The intention of these fraudsters is to manipulate and gain the trust of the elderly and vulnerable in self-isolation simply to execute more elaborate scams, gain access to their property or access their savings.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has already identified dozens of reports of coronavirus-related fraud in which the victims have lost a total of £800,000.
The LGA says that not only are those self-isolating at risk of falling victim to fraudsters who could simply take their cash and not return, but by letting people into their homes unsuspecting victims are also at greater risk of catching the coronavirus.
The LGA said well-wishers will have the most impact by turning their focus to helping their immediate neighbours or neighbours they already know, making donations to food banks, or appealing to established services in their councils, the NHS or local charities.
Anyone who is stuck without food or medical supplies, or is lonely as a result of their self-isolation and does not have any friends and family or neighbours that they know in the area, should in the first instance contact their council.
An LGA spokesman said councils are already working with voluntary and community groups, as well as newly established neighbourhood support groups, to identify where help is needed and the best, most secure route to providing this.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘By tricking elderly and vulnerable people in self-isolation to part with their cash, fraudsters are playing roulette with the lives of those most at risk.
‘Keeping the elderly and those with underlying health conditions safe is every councils’ top priority and councils will do everything in their power to prosecute fraudsters and seek the toughest penalties for criminals taking advantage in this despicable way.
‘Councils have plans in place for dealing with the very challenging circumstances presented by the coronavirus and will continue to review how best to use their staff and mobilise community resources to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable are given the support they need.’
Photo Credit – Pixabay