French police have arrested two men accused of defrauding elderly people out of hundreds of euros for bogus bed bug treatments which included eucalyptus-scented cream.
The two suspects, based in eastern France, telephoned their victims, usually women over 90, telling them there had been a bed bug infestation in their neighbourhood.
Nationwide panic erupted in France this autumn over reports of an alleged surge in its bed bug population with footage apparently showing the bloodsucking parasites on trains and cinemas going viral on social media.
Against this backdrop, the suspected conmen gained access to their targets’ homes by masquerading as health officials. They then pretended to purge rooms of bed bugs with a spray and provided an ointment they claimed would ward off the bugs from human skin. The ointment turned out to be a simple eucalyptus-scented cream.
Accepting only credit card payments, they charged between €300 and €2,100 per visit.
The creatures caused chaos across France
Police investigated after receiving nine complaints for suspected fraud. In total, at least 48 people were scammed, authorities said.
Once alerted, police swiftly identified the suspects. They then tracked them and swooped on the pair as they were leaving the home of their latest victim in Strasbourg, eastern France.
In October, France shut several schools over what was thought to be an infestation of bed bugs as the government held a series of emergency meetings. The bugs were reportedly spotted in the Paris metro, high-speed trains and at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport.
The sightings sent a shudder through the country as it prepares to welcome millions from around the world for the Paris Olympics next year.
Bed bugs back in greater numbers
The French government and experts insisted there was no major boom in the pests.
This did not stop London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, from calling the alleged French bed bug invasion a “real source of concern”, amid fears that the insects could reach Britain.
Speaking to PoliticsJOE in October, he said he had been in contact with counterparts in Paris as well as officials at Transport For London to “ensure we don’t have that problem”.
Bed bugs, which had largely disappeared from daily life by the 1950s, have appeared in greater numbers in recent decades, mostly owing to high population densities, people taking more holidays and mass transit.
One in 10 French households is believed to have had a bedbug problem over the past few years, usually requiring a pest control operation costing several hundreds of euros that often needs to be repeated.
Experts and officials have issued frequent warnings of scams and cowboy outfits charging astronomical sums for often ineffective treatment.