The government has been criticised for the time it is taking to match refugees with sponsors – who have been targeted by scams while trying to find their own matches
People in the UK offering to open their homes to Ukrainian refugees say they have been targeted by scammers seeking to steal money and personal information.
Registrants for the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme have criticised the government for moving too slowly in matching sponsors with refugees, leading some to be targeted by scammers as they attempt to find potential matches themselves online.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme was opened last month to support Ukrainians with no family links to the UK. More than 150,000 potential sponsors have registered their interest since the scheme opened.
But, according to official figures, only 2,700 visas have been issued through the scheme, despite receiving 28,300 applications in the first 15 days.
The delays have led thousands of people to join unofficial groups on Facebook where both British people and Ukrainian refugees can post their details in the hopes of finding a match.
But the process has left some at risk from scammers who appear to be using the opportunity to harvest personal information and attempt to steal money from British hosts.
Liz, who posted in one Facebook group, said she had made her own attempt to match with a refugee after hearing “no real information” about how the Homes for Ukraine scheme was progressing.
“I registered on the government website as soon as it went live,” she told PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome. “No real information was given about how to link up with a Ukrainian refugee, so it seemed the best option was to join one of the Facebook groups dedicated to matching Ukrainians to British homes. We’ve all muddled through the process as a Facebook community. I advertised the room and what I could offer in the group. I received several messages from genuine people needing help, but I also had messages from scammers.
“The messages would start out with a heartbreaking story of them and their family, usually with a small baby, under fire in a basement. The messages were always written in Ukrainian. Once I said I could try and help they asked for my credit card details so they could book a flight. I told them that the flights should be free, or I would buy the ticket myself if not and they didn’t need my credit card. After they read that message, they blocked me so I couldn’t contact them again.”
Liz said she had been targeted in this way three times by people she believed to be scammers before she eventually matched with a genuine refugee, who is now awaiting a visa.
Ministers have promised that background checks would be carried out on all sponsors before refugees would be allowed to move into homes, while security checks will also be conducted on those attempting to come to the UK. But, while the checks would lead some people not to be granted a visa, there is no safeguarding around scammers targeting potential sponsors on social media.
A government spokesperson said: “No visa will be issued until Home Office checks have been completed – both on the Ukrainian applicant but also on every adult in a sponsor’s household. The British public have been enormously generous in offering up their home to support those fleeing war and persecution, but for the protection of both Ukrainians and sponsors it is right that we do not issue a visa until these vital checks are finished. In addition to the Home Office checks, local authorities also run further DBS checks on sponsors, with enhanced DBS with barred list checks for those housing families with children or vulnerable adults.”