Scam warning over support groups springing up to help people in coronavirus self-isolation

People in self-isolation because of the coronavirus are being urged to take a cautious approach to offers of help.

There are concerns that scammers could take advantage of informal set ups to rip off the vulnerable.

Support groups have sprung up across Brighton and Hove this week, under the Mutual Aid banner, as people with health problems stay at home to try to prevent the spread of covid-19.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Nextdoor groups have been set up to cover individual streets and wider areas so that people can help neighbours by shopping for essentials and trying to lift their morale.

Volunteers have been putting postcards through neighbours’ letterboxes to ensure they reach those who are not online – but a councillor and a community campaigner have urged caution.

Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum member Adrian Hart is creating a card template with space for a photograph to make the cards more human.

He said that it was crucial to speak to people and point out where helpers lived, so those stuck at home knew that their helpers were genuinely from their community.

The idea is to reach people who did  not have access to social media platforms and itcame about after seeing cards made by a couple in Somerset.

Mr Hart said that the way people were coming forward to help was a “wonderful creep of community”.

He said: “We will get through this. This is a huge opportunity for communities to rise up and live up to that word.

“Fans of dystopian science fiction may be disappointed.

“I just think amid the extraordinary challenges, suffering and fatalities, the future is potentially bright because generations can look back and see we were good for it.”

Mr Hart’s idea came about independently of concerns raised by Hanover and Elm Grove Green councillor Elaine Hills who wanted people to make sure they trusted others with their cash and shopping.

Councillor Hills said in a post on the Hanover Community Noticeboard: “I just want to make sure that anyone who does use a neighbour to carry out errands for them is aware of who they are, and where they live, before handing over money, in order to avoid being scammed.”

She thanked people on the Hanover board for their public spirit, adding: “You really are a lovely lot.”

Sussex Police could not confirm whether any scamming incidents had taken place.

Mutual Aid is advising its groups to check up on who is offering help to make sure they have done the right thing.

A post to a national group said: “If you are giving or receiving help, tell someone, a friend, family member, or someone on this group, what the plan is.

“Even if you think you’re the most savvy person ever, ask them if something sounds off. They can give you a different perspective.”

Adrian Hart

It recommended that people to agreed to pre-payment for products.

Anyone wanting to use Mr Hart’s card template can contact the Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum by email at aanafcommunity@gmail.com.

A list of groups across Brighton and Hove is available at brightoncovid19mutualaid.weebly.com/local-sub-groups.html with more listed on a Google spreadsheet at bit.ly/MutualAidBrighton.

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