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.
A new task force is in operation to stop cases, featuring Barnsley Council and South Yorkshire Police, while the local authority’s adult safeguarding board urged neighbours to be vigilant in order to identify signs.
Wendy Lowder, executive director for communities at Barnsley Council, said: “People should be free to live their lives without fear, hatred or intolerance.
“There is no excuse for behaviour that induces intimidation, persecution, terror, fear and harassment.
“Treating people in this way can affect self-esteem and confidence, reinforcing feelings of difference. Sadly, intimidation such as this happens continuously in the daily lives of people with disabilities.
“Anyone who sees abuse or has concerns about someone’s safety is urged to report it by calling 01226 773300.
“For out of hours concerns people can call 0844 984 1800. If the person is in immediate danger, they are urged to call the police on 999 or 101.”
Although it’s a type of crime that’s still relatively uncommon, 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.
Barnsley Council has had success in moving quickly to issue closure orders on targeted properties, which effectively ban anyone without good reason from visiting a tenant, with the last happening on Honeywell Street last month.
However, a scrutiny meeting held at Barnsley Town Hall in October saw bosses admit that they believe it was an ‘under-reported’ issue, with targets said to be embarrassed or fearful.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Murphy said: “With mate crime, and then cuckooing, it’s generally always those who are perceived as vulnerable involved.
“Residents living nearby to vulnerable people are 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.
“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 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”