Shoppers are being warned not to get caught out by so-called ‘phantom goods’ scams, which are costing victims an average of £1,100 a time.
Citizens Advice has reported a 17% increase in the number of people reporting that they have been conned into buying big ticket items online – including cars and flights – that don’t actually exist.
The charity also claims that this is the type of scam that consumers are most likely to lose money from, with 96% losing cash, compared to 55% across all other scam types including investment scams and fake doorstep sales.
Phantom fraudsters typically use social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as online marketplaces such as eBay and Gumtree. Fake reviews are posted to make the fraudsters look like legitimate traders.
Cars, flights and furniture are the most popular phantom goods to be flogged but fraudsters will try and sell anything from musical instruments to cameras and jewellery.
Citizens Advice cites one example of a woman that paid £5,000 for a house boat on eBay. She exchanged emails with the ‘seller’ and was sent to a fake Paypal link to pay for the ‘phantom’ boat. To date, she has not been able to get her £5,000 back.
Commenting on the threat, Gillian Guy, chief executive at Citizens Advice says: “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.
Report the scam
The Citizen’s Advice research marks the start of Scam Awareness Month, which begins tomorrow. This is a joint campaign between the charity and Trading Standards which urges people to talk about scams and report them if they feel victim.
In 2016, National Trading Standards suspended 140 websites and 500 Twitter accounts that were linked to fraudsters in action that led to hundreds of arrests. However, the authorities still need people to report scams.
Ms Guy adds: “Reporting scams helps the authorities to take action against fraudsters and allows people to get advice on ways to try and get their money back.”
This can be done by contacting Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk or 0300 123 2040.
Protect yourself online
In order to protect more shoppers from being made victims, Citizen’s Advice has also issued the following advice to help people recognise and spot shopping scams online:
- Research the trader: don’t rush into making a purchase. Check whether the seller or company is registered with a trade body or has a registered address.
- Check the website domain: type the trader’s website address into whois.com to see if they are genuine. Ensure a full address and other contact details are listed.
- Look for the padlock: always check for the padlock sign on the url bar on the payment page which lets you know that the site is secure. The web address should start with https:// and part of the wording may turn green.
- Never pay by bank transfer: these are difficult to trace in the event of problems – it’s better to pay by credit or debit card.