OXFORDSHIRE residents are being warned that scammers are targeting vulnerable people as part of a Universal Credit sting.

Scammers are using the benefit as a pivotal part of a new racket to extract money from people facing financial difficulty, according to Citizens Advice South and Vale.

The organisation says fraudsters are offering loans to victims and then using their personal banking details to apply for Universal Credit in their names.

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The scam is usually carried out by telephone, so the public are being warned not to accept a loan if you have been contacted by cold calling.

Instead, people are advised merely to hang up if contacted in this way. Personal details should not be divulged on the telephone or in an email.

Citizens Advice say the scam is also being carried out in public places.

As victims leave job centres and pubs, they are approached by smartly dressed people claiming to be from the Department of Work and Pensions, who then offer 'government loans'. Instead, the victim is signed up for Universal Credit. The scammers then apply for an advance payment of the benefit.

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This payment goes to the victim's bank account but the scammers then charge a huge fee, around 50 per cent, for this unnecessary 'service'.

Citizens Advice has its own free service to help Universal Credit applicants.

"Help to Claim" is available over the telephone, face to face, and online through “webchat” and Internet content. The national Freephone number for Help to Claim is 0800 144 8444. Telephone and webchat services are available from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Citizens Advice's telephone number is 03 444 111 444 and they offer services in person. For locations of offices and opening hours see citizensadvice.org.uk/local/oxfordshire-south-vale