At a difficult time in her life, Helen Barker was desperate for a job – and fraudsters tried to take advantage.
The 29-year-old, who has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was looking for work in the care sector.
She answered a job advert on a big recruitment website.
She sent off an application form and other details, only to be told that she had to pay for a DBS check – ensuring she had no criminal convictions – and training.
“They were asking for £250 for the training,” she said. “It all seemed above board and I thought it must be company policy.
“I felt boxed in and thought I had to do it to get a job.”
She had already sent a copy of her passport, but was now being hassled for bank card details to pay.
“They were convincing, but I managed to step out of my desperation for a minute, and knew I should think about it first,” she said.
She talked to people she trusted, realised it was a scam, and managed to avoid losing the money.
Since then, she has secured a job managing volunteers, and is warning others that if anyone gets “pushy” in that kind of situation, the alarm bells should ring.
On top of that, she knows that her mental state at the time made her more vulnerable.
People with mental health issues are three times more likely to fall victim to a scam, according to a report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
Its survey and research suggested that 23% of those with mental health problems had been duped by an online scam compared with 8% of the general population.
The institute wants more protection written into the forthcoming Online Harms Bill, with online technology companies required to do more to police and prevent harmful content.
Martin Lewis, who founded the institute, said vulnerable people were “easy prey” for online criminals, particularly during the pandemic.
“The UK already faced an epidemic of scams, but now lockdown has accelerated it, especially online,” he said.
“These vicious criminals are exploiting the fact that more people are stuck at home, spending more time online, and potentially struggling with their mental health – all of which increase the risk of falling victim to these schemes.”
‘Vulnerable left exposed’
The fight against scams has also been hit by trading standards officers – the front line against fraudsters – being transferred from their normal duties to other coronavirus-related work, according to the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers.
It said officers had been moved to local authority work ensuring businesses were complying with restrictions, had been seconded as Covid marshals, or had been helping the distribution of food and supplies to people who had been shielding or were vulnerable.
“Rogue traders, scammers and those who sell dangerous products haven’t stopped because of Covid-19, but the reality is that many trading standards officers are being pulled away from their usual work tackling criminal activity,” said Steve Ruddy, who chairs the association.
“It is right that as a country we all pull together to combat this pandemic, but the danger of leaving some of society’s most vulnerable people exposed to criminals is something that must be addressed.”