The number of shoppers being swindled by 'phantom goods' scams has surged a study has revealed.
Citizens Advice analysed 3,600 scams logged by its consumer service between January and March this year found 555 cases of phantom goods, up from 490 over the same period in 2016 - a rise of 17%.
Unsuspecting victims have been lured in by fraudsters who advertised items at cut prices on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, and online market places such as eBay and Gumtree.
But these items don't actually exist and rogues have left people an average £1,100 out of pocket.
Scammers managed to dupe people into taking out the deals as they made them look authentic with fake customer reviews so they appeared to be from a reputable trader.
According to charity Citizens Advice people are more likely to lose money from phantom goods scams than any other - 96% of people lost cash, compared to 55% across all scam types.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Scams can have a lasting financial and emotional impact on people's lives.
"With some 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 them 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."
Top tips to avoid buying phantom goods:
- Research the trader - don't rush into buying an item as soon as you spot a good deal. Take some time to do some research on the company or trader first by checking their protected by a trade body or they have registered address.
- Do a domain check - type in the trader's web address to whois.com so you know they're genuine. Make sure their full address and contact details are listed.
- Look for the padlock - when buying online, look out for the padlock sign in the url bar on the payment page so you know the website is secure. The web address should also start with 'https://' and part of the wording may turn green too.
- Don't pay by bank transfer - always use a credit card, debit card or PayPal to pay for items bought online and never pay by bank transfer. Bank transfers can be difficult to trace meaning you are very unlikely to get your money back.