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Scammers trying to take advantage of cornavirus outbreak

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents are being warned to be on their guard against a series of scams attempting to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Miracle cures, bogus testing kits and counterfeit hand sanitiser are just some of the coronavirus or Covid-19 themed scams being reported nationally.

Whilst no direct reports have been received yet, Pembrokeshire Trading Standards and Dyfed-Powys Police are warning everyone to be on their guard and to look out for vulnerable friends and family who may be targeted.

Scammers are exploiting the coronavirus situation, dressing up familiar old scams to make them appear credible.

Tactics are employed by phone, mail, on the doorstep and online. Some examples include –

Online

  • Bogus World Health Organisation (WHO) emails seeking personal information and delivering malware to corrupt your data.
  • Payment for a list of infected people in your area where you may be required to pay by bitcoin or asked to click on a link which delivers malware

Holiday Refunds

  • Fake websites to claim holiday refunds

Counterfeit Goods

  • Counterfeit or poor quality hand gel and face masks that will not provide the protection they claim

Donations

  • Bogus charities seeking donations for victims of Covid-19
  • Donations for a Covid-19 vaccine

Phone

  • Calls to piper lifeline users that they owe money
  • Criminals claiming to be your bank or utility company

Miracle Cures & Supplements

  • Miracle cures or other health supplements that claim to treat or prevent the virus.

Doorstep

  • Offers to shop and collect medicines, with thieves taking upfront cash payments and not being seen again.
  • Handing over bank cards with pin numbers and personal details resulting in substantial money loss.

Loan Sharks

  • Illegal money lenders prey on people’s financial hardship, charging extortionate interest rates and fees and threats of violence. Report it to the Illegal Money Lending Unit tel. 0300 123 3311 or email imlu@cardiff.gov.uk

Businesses have also been targeted by bank mandate fraud –

  • Emails seeking urgent payment due to cash flow problems,
  • False claims of changes to bank account details in an attempt to pay the scammer instead
  • Third parties claiming to act on behalf of employees incapacitated by the virus

Sandra McSparron, Lead Trading Standards Officer at Pembrokeshire County Council, said: “The list is endless – scammers have no limits, no morals, no scruples – they just want to profit”

“This is a difficult time for everyone, especially vulnerable people who are self-isolating or shielding”.

“Simple acts like keeping in touch by phone or online can make all the difference. Seek advice and support if you or someone you know is concerned about any suspicious contact.”

Cllr Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment, Public Protection and Welsh language, added: “It is a very sad but unfortunate fact of life that scammers will try to take advantage of any situation they can to try to get their hands on people’s money.

“We know there are such scams linked to coronavirus being circulated so please follow the advice of our Trading Standards Team and be very wary of unsolicited calls emails, etc and protect yourself and your family from these criminals who are preying on extra vulnerabilities at this time.”

 

Trading standards offer the following advice –

  • If you are unable to go out and need help with essential matters such as shopping and collection of medicines, contact the Council’s Community Coordination Hub (details below). Be wary of anyone turning up on your doorstep without prior arrangement.
  • Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails
  • Never respond to unsolicited emails and phone calls asking for personal or financial details
  • Make sure your anti-viral software is up-to-date
  • Don’t make on the spot decisions – take time and speak to someone you trust for their opinion
  • If you can, carry out your own checks online for adverse reports about a business
  • Register with the Telephone Preference Service to reduce unwanted telemarketing calls tel: 0345 070 0707 or via their website tps@dma.org.uk
  • Don’t take someone’s word who they claim to be – take steps to verify it yourself. Genuine callers will understand and not pressurise you.
  • Consider obtaining a nuisance telephone call blocker to stop nuisance and scam calls. If you would like a free trial of one contact Pembrokeshire Trading Standards team on 01437 764551 or email tradingstandards@pembrokeshire.gov.uk
  • If you need any repairs or home maintenance, ask family and friends for recommendation and if possible obtain a few quotes before you decide
  • Above all, speak to someone if you do have a problem as scammers will often persist to contact you where you have previously made a payment or given personal information

Hiking Up Prices

In addition to scams some retailers have ramped up the price of goods in high demand such as hand gel, paracetamol and toilet roll, a process known as price gouging.

Examples include a standard box of paracetamol priced £59 online and a small bottle of hand sanitiser priced £30.

Competition watchdog the Consumer and Markets Authority, has set up a taskforce to crack down on businesses that cash in during the outbreak.

It states action will be taken against traders that do not heed the warning. eBay has already suspended hundreds of “bad seller” accounts. You can report inflated price concerns to the CMA via the www.gov.uk website.

Pembrokeshire County Council has set up a Community Coordination Hub Team to support vulnerable residents affected by the COVID-19 virus, providing voluntary services such as grocery shopping and medicine delivery.

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Cllr Beynon suspended as school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL said that they are unable to comment on the suspension of a Pembroke Dock councillor as a school governor.

Cllr Beynon confirmed that he has been suspended as a school governor at Pembroke’s Ysgol Harri Tudur.

“I’m looking forward until when the ombudsman throws out the complaints,” Cllr Beynon said.

Paul Dowson, a fellow Pembroke Dock councillor, recently resigned from the board of school governors of Ysgol Harri Tudur.

Cllr Dowson said after he resigned: “I feel a recent smear campaign reflects badly on the school even though its untrue.”

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Pembrokeshire man admits catalogue of sexual offences against children

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A HAVERFORDWEST man has pleaded guilty to a huge catalogue of sexual offences against children, including possession of more than 9,000 indecent images.

Kevin David John has admitted 20 offences in total – including the rape of a girl under 16 – following a three-month investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

The 49-year-old, who appeared at Swansea Crown Court on June 23, came to police attention in April when he was arrested and a search carried out at his Prendergast home.

In total 111 different storage devices were seized – including tablets, laptops and mobile phones – along with almost 1,000 disks.

Specialist officers spent hours combing through huge amounts of data, uncovering substantial evidence of further offending, and John was charged and remanded into custody.

John initially appeared at Swansea Magistrates Court on April 24 where he pleaded guilty to five counts: recording a person doing a private act, sexual assault, causing a girl under 16 to engage in sexual activity, and two of taking an indecent photograph of a child.

He later admitted a further 15, which comprised sexual assault, sexual assault by touching, four sexual assaults of a child, rape, possession of Category A, B and C indecent photographs, making Category A, B and C pseudo-photographs of a child, possession of a prohibited image of a child, and possession of extreme pornographic images.

Detective Inspector Richard Lewis said: “This has been a detailed and harrowing investigation from the outset, involving a number of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

“Their courage in speaking out has been humbling, and the information they shared with us was invaluable in getting John to court,” he said.

Darren Mutter, Head of Children’s Services at Pembrokeshire County Council, said the council’s social services department had also worked closely with police to support the victims and their families, and ensure all safeguarding was addressed.

Added DI Lewis: “Police officers throughout Pembrokeshire played a role in this enquiry, and I would like to convey my sincere thanks to all staff involved for their professionalism and dedication in what has been a challenging and sensitive enquiry.

“Thanks also to Dyfed-Powys Police’s digital cybercrime unit, whose rigorous interrogation of a mammoth amount of potential evidence enabled us to build a robust case that demonstrated the severity of John’s offending.”

John will appear for sentencing at Swansea Crown Court on July 17.

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Jail for sleight of hand fraudster

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A MAN has been jailed for four fraud offences after purposely confusing post office and bank staff with sleight of hand techniques.

Costel Ventel visited four post offices and a bank in Pembrokeshire in one day, tricking staff into handing over a total of £930.

Just hours later, the 20-year-old from Birmingham was reported to Dyfed-Powys Police for trying to use the same technique in Llanelli.

PC Olivia Jones said: “We were called to post offices in Tenby, Saundersfoot and Kilgetty, as well as HSBC in Tenby, on May 17, 2019, where Ventel had committed or attempted to commit fraud.

“He’d asked staff to exchange bank notes, then purposely confused them by using sleight of hand techniques. Ventel passed notes back and fore, managing to pocket £450 from one and £480 from another without the member of staff noticing.

“We believed he had travelled from Birmingham for the purpose of carrying out these acts of fraud, and enquiries immediately started to locate him.”

Later that day, Ventel travelled to Llanelli, where he tried to commit further offences at HSBC.

PC Jones said: “Thankfully, staff at the bank were alerted to their unusual behaviour and recognised them from descriptions circulated following the incident at the Tenby branch, and called police.

“Both men were arrested on suspicion of fraud offences.”

Initially Ventel was released under investigation, but following extensive enquiries over a number of months, four charges of fraud by false representations were secured against him.

He was summonsed to appear at court June 30, where he was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison.

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