More and more innocent victims are being caught out by ‘phantom goods’ scams online, losing large amounts of money and having their personal details stolen, charity chiefs in Burton have warned.
Shoppers are tricked into buying high value items such as cars and flights online which turn out to not exist, costing them on average £1,100, says Citizens Advice Mid Staffordshire.
New figures reveal a 17 per cent increase in people reporting ‘phantom goods’ to the Citizens Advice customer service.
These findings are being released as part of Scams Awareness Month in July. The campaign is spearheaded by Citizens Advice and Trading Standards bosses and aim to encourage people to talk about and report scams.
‘Phantoms goods’ scams involve fraudsters advertising items at low prices on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, and online marketplaces such as Gumtree and eBay. Online fraudsters will also post fake customer reviews to give the impression they are a reputable trader.
Scammers pretended to sell a wide variety of goods, from jewellery and cameras to musical instruments and driving lessons. The most common items for people to get scammed over, however were cars, furniture and flights.
One young man paid £2,000 for car insurance he found on Instagram, with a seller who had comments offering recommendations from supposed other users. He was told the paperwork for his insurance would be emailed to him after the money had been transferred, but realised it was a scam when the email never arrived. Fortunately, he was a lucky one and his bank was eventually able to claw back the money from the scammer's account, but it can be hard to get your money back when you pay with a bank transfer.
Another woman spotted a houseboat for sale on eBay for an absolute steal! She exchanged emails with the seller and agreed to purchase the boat for £5,000. To complete the transaction she was then sent a fake link to a PayPal site to make the payment. She has never been able to get her money back.
The research is analysis of more than 3,600 scams logged by the Citizens Advice consumer service between January and March 2017, compared with scams reported during the same time period in 2016.
A total of 555 cases of ‘phantom goods’ were recorded between January and March this year, compared with 495 cases over the same period in 2016, a dramatic rise of 17 per cent.
Dawn Green, chief executive officer of East Staffordshire Citizens Advice, 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.
How to stay safe
Despite scams being on the rise, there are various ways by which you can protect yourself and some top tips to avoid buying phantom goods. First of all, research is key. Don’t rush into buying an item before properly researching the trader just because you think you may have spotted a good deal. Also, a domain check is a good idea, type the traders web address into whois.com so you know they are genuine. Finally, wherever possible, don’t pay by bank transfer, always pay by debit card or PayPal as bank transfers can be difficult to trace, meaning you are very unlikely to get your money back.
To get advice on an offer you’ve had or find out how you can get your money back if you’ve been scammed called the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040506. Also, to report suspected scam call 0300 1232040 or visit www.actionfraud.police.uk