One in six complaints about products or services advertised on Gumtree, and one in 10 about sales at eBay, are a scam or potential scam, Citizens Advice (CA) research has revealed.
It says scammers are using online marketplaces to "trap victims into dodgy deals", after analysing problems reported to its consumer service between October 2013 and March 2014.
The analysis took in 649 problem cases involving Gumtree and a whopping 3,711 at eBay. Problems included scammers using the websites to advertise housing and job scams, as well as motorists buying second-hand cars only to find they have a logbook loan attached – the lender then takes the car away as the previous owner hadn't kept up with repayments.
Other popular scams include people paying for goods they never receive – including phones, furniture and even pets. CA also said businesses are being caught out: after posting adverts online, businesses are contacted by other firms offering cheap advertising which turn out to be a con.
In Scotland, an increasingly popular scam involves fake tickets for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, to be held in Glasgow between 23 July and 3 August 2014. CA said tickets are being offered online at over-inflated prices, but the buyer never receives them.
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Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "Online marketplaces are at risk of becoming a hotbed for scams. These sites are an important service for buyers and sellers, but con artists are profiting from them too. Scammers are swindling people out of hundreds or thousands of pounds by posting false products and services online.
"Con artists are preying on those still trying to get back on their feet from the recession. Fake jobs and phoney homes are taking people's deposits that they strived and saved so long for."
Citizens Advice is demanding eBay, Gumtree and others police their website better, in order to protect consumers from scams.
The CA research comes after figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureaux indicate that online shopping and auction scams were the most common fraud reported in 2013 costing UK consumers £63.6 million.
"Businesses need to get savvy to these spurious practices and take steps to stop consumers falling foul of scams," said Guy. "It's time for online marketplaces to up their game and do more to protect their customers from dodgy dealings by strongly policing their websites, carrying out spot checks and immediately removing any risky ads."
A spokesman for Gumtree added: “We do everything in our power to keep scammers off our site and encourage anyone that has fallen for a scam, to report it to us and the police. We take fraud very seriously, so our dedicated safety team investigates claims and takes action such as blocking the offender from the site and working with the police in their investigations.
"Gumtree is an open platform which provides a free and easy way to buy and sell, meaning we do not track user information. We are always looking at new ways to improve customer safety such as improving methods of communication between us and our customers. We also work with expert third parties such as the Met Police and Get Safe Online on the latest frauds and how to prevent them. We encourage all our users to adhere to our safety tips on the site and discourage people from transferring any money in advance of seeing an item for sale.”
Typical scams recorded by CA include:
- A flat hunter saw a property advertised on Gumtree. He liked the property so handed over £1,450 via bank transfer and £200 in cash; but when he went to move in someone else was already living there. The 'landlord' had fraudulently advertised the property (which was actually his mother's home).
- A man bought tickets to a concert through Gumtree as a Valentine's gift for his girlfriend. He was suspicious when the seller asked him to transfer the money into her bank account. But after she sent him a copy of her driving licence and her own bank details he felt it was safe to go ahead. When he didn't receive the tickets he tracked the seller down via Facebook and discovered that the person in the photo was not the seller at all. In fact the scammer had obtained a photo of her driving license after she posted it on Instagram and used the image to commit fraud.
- A young man spent over £1,000 on a car (£360 on the vehicle and £700 on necessary repairs) that he bought through eBay. Not long after the car was taken away by a log book lender as the previous owner had not kept up repayments.
If you have a similar problem, you can find your local bureau in England and Wales by visiting citizensadvice.org.uk. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 (03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers).