Disgust as fraudster exploits refugee crisis

PUBLISHED: 06:01 21 December 2015

Archant

A Sidmouth resident raised the alert about a suspected doorstep scam

A conman who masqueraded as a council official under the pretence of finding accommodation for Syrian refugees has been condemned as ‘hideous’.

The suspected crook struck in the wake of the humanitarian crisis in an apparent attempt to prey on people’s goodwill and was reported to East Devon District Council (EDDC) by a concerned Sidmouth resident.

Householders have now been issued a warning about the fraudster, who is described as a well-dressed man, aged between 30 and 40, and operating under the guise of an EDDC housing officer.

He reportedly asked to see around the property and even suggested the resident would be remunerated for helping to house refugees.

EDDC has ‘categorically confirmed’ the man was not one of its representatives.

Town and district councillor Matt Booth has spent time in Calais refugee camps and said he had not heard about this particular scam - but condemned the actions of anyone who could seek to take advantage of such a tragic situation.

Councillor Booth said: “It is hideous. It’s not nice at all and it makes it even harder because it’s such an emotive subject.

“It’s a shame. It just adds to an air of suspicion. People will prey on vulnerabilities and I do not know how we stop it really.

“My first-hand knowledge of the refugee situation is quite different. I met people in Calais who had watched their homes get blown up and their families. It’s just awful.”

PCSO Chris Bolsover, of Sidmouth’s neighbourhood policing team, raised awareness of the doorstep scam at a neighbourhood partnership meeting last week after being alerted by EDDC.

EDDC issued a statement after being contacted by the Herald this week.

A spokeswoman said: “On November 18, we received a letter from a Sidmouth resident alerting us to a visit their household had received on November 16, from a man presenting himself as an officer from EDDC.

“He asked a lot of questions about the resident’s property and wanted to look round the house, which the resident sensibly declined. We can categorically confirm that the person who visited this household was not from East Devon District Council. We then contacted the police, at the request of the resident, to alert them to this potential fraud.”

To report any instances of suspected fraud, people are advised to contact police via the ActionFraud phone number 0300 123 2040, or online by visiting: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report-a-fraud/how-to-report-a-fraud

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