More and more people are being caught out by ‘phantom goods’ scams, which cost them an average of £1,100, Citizens Advice Scotland says.
New figures published today (Friday) reveal a 17% increase in people across the UK reporting this type of scam, where they are conned into buying items - often high value items like cars and flights - which turn out not to exist.
The findings are being released ahead of Scams Awareness Month which starts on Saturday 1 July. The UK-wide campaign is being led by the Citizens Advice service and Trading Standards. It encourages people to be aware of scams, and also to report them.
‘Phantom goods’ scams involve fraudsters 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 give the impression they are a reputable trader.
We have analysed over 3,600 scams logged by the Citizens Advice consumer service across the UK between January and March. 555 cases of ‘phantom goods’ were recorded this year, compared to 495 cases over the same period in 2016 - a rise of 17%.
Two recent cases reported to CABs illustrate the problems.
- One young man paid £2000 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. It can be hard to get your money back when you pay with a bank transfer, but because he reported it his bank was eventually able to claw back the money from the scammer’s account.
- Another woman spotted a houseboat for sale on ebay. She exchanged emails with the seller and agreed to purchase the boat for £5000. She was then sent a link to a fake PayPal site to make the payment. She has been unable to get her money back.
Anne Lavery, Acting Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said:
"Scams can have a lasting financial and emotional impact on people’s lives.
"With so many people shopping online to compare deals, scammers are using numerous tactics to target people with phantom goods. They are drawing people in with cut-price deals and then persuading people to buy items with phoney recommendations from customers.
"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.
"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."
Adam Gaunt, Chair of Chartered Trading Standard Institute Scottish branch, said:
"The focus of this month’s awareness campaign is tackling the stigma around scams by getting people talking. It is so important to realise that scams can happen to anyone.
"Whether you’ve previously been affected or not, you can play your part by recognising and reporting scams, seeking advice and talking about the issues.
"By acting on scams, you’re helping to protect yourself and people in your family or in your community who are less able to identify and avoid scams."
Peter Adamson, Chairman of the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS), said:
"These fraudulent offers are becoming more common. SCOTSS advise consumers to think twice before transferring funds to an unfamiliar supplier even if the website or other online offer looks authentic.
"Be particularly wary of sellers who ask for direct funds transfer like ‘Faster Payments’. Once you hit the transfer button, there is very little chance of getting your money back if something goes wrong.
"Always do as much research as you can before purchase, and report it immediately if something goes wrong."