Barnsley Trading Standards are warning about buying face coverings and other high demand items from unknown online businesses, following scammers using the address of a legitimate Barnsley business owner.
Sweethouse.club and Homelux.online advertise face coverings and kits to allow crafty customers to create their own.
Consumers from up and down the country have ordered these only for nothing to arrive, with emails and phone calls going unanswered.
The websites display an address in Hemingfield that is unrelated to the sites and belongs to local businesswoman Ruth Rouse.
Mrs Rouse has been receiving letters daily from disgruntled customers and even had one such customer come to her door: “It’s concerning that all these people have been scammed. Fortunately, the lady that came to our door was quite understanding however the concern for my husband and I is that the next person may not be. We want to make it clear that we are not involved in the running of these websites,” she said.
Barnsley Trading Standards officers report that this international scam appears to have originated in Africa, with operators running sites targeting France and Spain too. The number of complaints the service has received is increasing every day, and it is estimated that the perpetrators may have made as much as £100,000 from this scam.
Anyone who has ordered from either of these sites should contact their card issuer for assistance.
Councillor Jim Andrews, Cabinet Spokesperson for Public Health, said: “While the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best in many people, it has unfortunately also brought out the worst in others.
“The requirement for people to wear face coverings on public transport and certain other areas has meant demand for them has increased significantly. Some unscrupulous people have seen this as an opportunity to get rich from the desperation of others.
“Our trading standards team is working hard to protect the consumers of Barnsley and beyond by supporting those who have fallen victim to this and other scams and alerting the public to the risk
“If you’re looking to buy a face covering you should be clear on what it is for. They are for the possible benefit of those around you rather than to offer any sort of protection so any face coverings claiming to offer protection should raise suspicion. The website Gov.uk contains more advice on when you are required to wear a face covering, when you should and gives information on making your own.
“Protective face masks are a different type of product entirely and have to go through much more stringent performance and quality assessments. Advice remains that they should only be used when absolutely required to ensure they are available for front line services.”
Scams Awareness Fortnight takes place from 15-28 June and Barnsley Council will be sharing a number of fraud prevention messages on its social media accounts.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said: Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a number of new scams which consumers should be aware of, these include emails or messages pretending to be from government, new bogus charity collectors and counterfeit testing kits, personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.
If you think you have been scammed or you are concerned about something you have seen then you should report it to Trading Standards using the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133 or on their website www.citizensadvice.org.uk/