A growing number of people are being caught out by “phantom goods” scams, according to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
New figures show a 17% rise in people conned into buying things – often high value items like cars and flights – which turn out not to exist. The average loss for these scams is now £1,100.
Fraudsters are advertising items at cut prices on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and online marketplaces such as Gumtree and Ebay. Scammers will also post fake customer reviews to boost their credibility.
In only a few months, January to March this year, Citizens Advice logged over 3,600 complaints about phantom goods.
One man paid £2,000 for car insurance he found on Instagram, with a seller who had comments of recommendation from other users. He was told the paperwork would be emailed after he transferred the money, but realised it was a scam when the email never arrived.
Another woman spotted a houseboat for sale on eBay. She exchanged emails with the seller and agreed to purchase the boat for £5,000. She was then sent a link to a fake PayPal site to make the payment, and has been unable to get her money back.
Scams can have a lasting financial and emotional impact
In a bid to crack down on the scammers, Citizens Advice and Trading Standards are launching scam awareness month from July 1.
“It’s really important that people don’t rush into buying an item when they spot a bargain, but take some time to make sure it’s genuine first,” said Anne Lavery, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland.
“Scams can have a lasting financial and emotional impact on people’s lives,” she added. “Reporting scams also helps the authorities to take action against fraudsters and allows people to get advice on ways to try and get their money back.”
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