The council leader is appealing for well-meaning residents not to set up their own coronavirus support groups – but to join established groups instead.

Cllr Chris White – who is leader of St Albans City and District Council – stresses that he is not talking about those people who are shopping for or supporting neighbours that they already know.

But he points to a number of well-meaning people who are trying to help the wider community living around them by setting up volunteer groups themselves.

He says that these single-handed operations could leave vulnerable individuals stranded – if they couldn’t keep up with the requests for help.

Read more: How you can sign up to help others in need during the coronavirus outbreak

And he says their leaflets – or Facebook posts – may inadvertently make residents vulnerable to exploitation by others.

That’s because the groups, he says, could be infiltrated by criminals who may then run off with the money they are given for the shopping or worse.

And he is appealing to anyone who wants to do more to support the vulnerable in their neighbourhood to do so through an established organisation – such as Communities First or groups within the faith communities.

“There are these ‘self-help’ groups popping up,” said Cllr White. “People are putting out notes saying: ‘hello, if you’re self-isolating we can help’.

“But they are raising expectations that they won’t be able to fulfil, with no training in safeguarding.

“And it means anyone can then knock on that door, say they are from the residents’ association and that they can do the shopping – and then has a free pass because of the note.”

Cllr White stresses that the people who are setting up these services are well-meaning.

But he echoed his warnings that these new groups could be used to exploit others at a meeting of St Albans City and District Council’s Cabinet on Thursday (March 19).

“It is good to see local communities organising to look after their neighbours,” he said.

“I am aware though that there has been a rise in scams, with criminals taking advantage of the situation – and there are dangers inherent in sharing details about vulnerable people.”

He told members of the cabinet that what really terrified him was the emergence of Facebook groups, “where you have no idea who is infiltrating them potentially”.

And he said there were examples – in other parts of the county – where personal details had been published.

He pointed to the existing work of parish councils and faith groups, who already have networks.

And he highlighted the 600 people who had already volunteered to support Communities First.

“Our partner Communities First has a well-organised scheme that people can sign up to, if they wanted to volunteer to help,” he said.

Cllr White also stressed that a proportion of the people who usually volunteer through groups like Communities First are having to pull out, because they are in an ‘at risk groups’.

And he said ‘back-filling’ with new volunteers had become quite important.