CALLOUS criminals targeting vulnerable adults living alone in Barnsley in order to exploit them for financial gain is an under-reported issue and needs to be addressed, social care bosses have admitted.

Family members and carers have been urged to be vigilant in spotting signs of suspected ‘mate crime’ after a number of recent incidents of vulnerable people being taken advantage of, which related to drugs and finance.

Mate crime occurs when criminals target vulnerable people, befriending them with a view to exploiting them for criminal activity.

Those targeted may be deceived or threatened, or it might be such a gradual process that they do not know something is wrong until it is too late.

In some circumstances, mate crime can lead to ‘cuckooing’ - where the home of a victim is taken over, often for use as a base for criminal activity.

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Bob Dyson, chairman of Barnsley Safeguarding Adults Board, said: “I believe there is under-reporting in Barnsley and often the first time we get to know about an incident is when it’s raised. This abuse is unseen as some victims simply do not want to report it.

“There’s a reluctance because we often find out it’s family, a friend or someone who knows the victim and they don’t want to get them in trouble.

“It has a knock-on effect and we’re working on this to increase the awareness of the crime.”

Although it’s a type of crime that’s still relatively new, with only a handful of cases being brought to police’s attention in Barnsley, officers say it is linked to organised crime groups who often prey on the most vulnerable in society.

Earlier this year police executed a warrant in Barugh Green where a 68-year-old man’s home was being used as a den for drug use and dealing.

One particular case, revealed by police at a scrutiny meeting held at Barnsley Town Hall on Tuesday, remains ongoing and involves two people with ‘severe learning difficulties’ who were allegedly exploited for financial gain.

Det Chf Insp Paul Murphy added: “Cuckooing is something we’re aware of and it’s generally always those who are perceived as vulnerable involved.

“Criminals will befriend someone and it’s sad that often the victim’s mental capacity is deemed acceptable.

“That in itself puts a limit of the social care aspect as the person is assessed as being in control of their decisions, but sadly it’s not the case. We have safeguarding plans in place for this.

“We hear a lot about so-called cyber crime but the fact of the matter is that many elderly people are not on the internet, so things like cold-calling and cuckooing are an issue as it’s difficult for victims to admit to.”

Residents living nearby to vulnerable people have been asked to look out for an increase in visitors, a rise in antisocial behaviour, signs of drug use and a lack of healthcare visitors to a property.

When questioned by Coun Wayne Johnson, who represents the Stairfoot ward, about whether the council and police are confident that the right systems are now in place to combat the crime, DCI Murphy said ‘yes’.

He added: “We have had a few referrals but it’s only when we’re called out to a report we get to know the details.

“There’s a bigger picture with this and the wave is a result of organised crime groups.

“We’re alive to that and for every incident, there’s a joint approach to dealing with it.”

If you suspect somebody is a victim of cuckooing, please contact police on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.