A growing number of people are being caught out by sellers offering so-called phantom goods, with many online shoppers being stung for hundreds of pounds.
Despite widespread coverage of the importance of taking care whilst browsing, there has been a significant rise in reports of “goods” that don’t exist.
Phantom goods tend to be high-value items such as cars and flights.
According to Citizens Advice, there has been a 17% increase in the number of people reporting this sort of scam, and the average victim is losing out to the tune of £1,100.
Citizens Advice is publicising the stats during Scams Awareness Month, in which people who have been caught out by con artists are being encouraged to report and talk about scams.
Sites such as Ebay and Gumtree are favourite places for crooks to advertise phantom goods, and social-media sites such as Facebook are often used, too.
Citizens Advice warned that things offered for sale in this manner also include jewellery, cameras, musical instruments, driving lessons and furniture.
The success rate of these fraudsters is very high. Nearly everyone who falls victim to these crooks ultimately ends up out of pocket, as opposed to 55% of people across all scam types.
“Scams can have a lasting financial and emotional impact on people’s lives,” said Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy.
“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 to get their money back.”
Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, which is backing Scams Awareness Month, said: “Criminals are able to set up multiple accounts to sell fake or non-existent products from almost anywhere in the world, concealing their real identity and contact details.”
He added that there were a number of steps people can take to protect themselves, including checking sellers’ reviews and references and looking for signs such as whether website domains begin with “https”.