TRADING Standards have warned residents about buying face coverings from unknown online businesses after scammers made £100,000 by using the address of a legitimate business owner in Barnsley.
The websites - sweethouse.club and homelux.online - have been advertising face coverings online, only for customers from across the country to receive no product.
The address that is displayed on the websites shows a site in Hemingfield that belongs to local businesswoman, Ruth Rouse, who has nothing to do with the websites.
Ruth has had letters from disgruntled customers, and one customer even turned up to her door to confront her regarding the face coverings.
She said: “It’s concerning that all these people have been scammed.
“Fortunately the lady that came to our door was quite understanding, however the concern for my husband and I is that the next person may not be.
“We want to make it clear that we are not involved in the running of these websites.”
Barnsley Trading Standards believe it is an international scam originating in Africa, with operators running sites also targeting France and Spain.
Complaints are continuing to rise each day and it is estimated that the perpetrators may have made as much as £100,000 from the scam.
Coun Jim Andrews, cabinet spokesman, said: “While the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best in many people, it has unfortunately also brought out the worst in others.
“The requirement for people to wear face coverings on public transport and certain other areas has meant demand for them has increased significantly.
“Some unscrupulous people have seen this as an opportunity to get rich from the desperation of others.
“Our Trading Standards team is working hard to protect the consumers of Barnsley and beyond by supporting those who have fallen victim to this and other scams and alerting the public to the risk.
“Face coverings are made for the benefit of those around you rather than offering protection, so any sites claiming to offer protection should immediately raise suspicion.”
Barnsley Council will be sharing a number of fraud prevention messages on its social media accounts over the coming weeks, as Scams Awareness Fortnight takes place until June 28.
Lord Toby Harris, the chair of Trading Standards, said: “Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a number of new scams which consumers should be aware of.
“These include emails or messages pretending to be from the government, new bogus charity collectors and counterfeit testing kits, personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.”
* If you think that you have been scammed then you should report it to Trading Standards on 0808 2231133 or www.citizensadvice.org.uk.