A VOLUNTEER group has been left devastated after losing vital funds awarded to it after being targeted by what it believes was an online scam.

Friends of Prudhoe Woods was awarded £3,870 for a storage container and equipment through Northumberland Community Chest, which gives grants to voluntary and community groups, in January this year.

With nowhere to store its equipment, chairman of the group Peter Binns found a storage container online for £1,600 and paid for it, but later discovered the website was believed to be a scam.

“I was absolutely gutted,” Peter said. “I felt responsible because I had researched it and found it. It just felt awful.

“I spoke to them on the phone and told them what we do, so they knew that we’re a charity, but still took the money.”

He said the website had seemed genuine, but after paying the funds it had become impossible to contact the company.

“That was the cheapest price I found, so I spoke to a gentleman on the phone and I said will you take a cheque for it, and he said we only take Bacs payments,” he explained. “That should have rung alarm bells, but it didn’t at the time. We are just desperate for the container as everything is in my shed and I can’t even get into it at the moment.

“I went ahead and asked the treasurer to sort it out by bank transfer. The website was really good and it didn’t ring alarm bells at all.”

After a number of failed attempts to speak to the company, Peter said he received a message while on the website warning that it was a scam, and after speaking to another storage container company which said it knew others had been affected, he contacted police.

The case is now being dealt with by the cyber crime unit at City of London Police.

The group has now ordered another container through Sunderland-based company Container Sales UK, although if it does not recoup some of the money it will be left short of funding which was needed for equipment.