How to avoid losing Phantom cash

July 2017 is the latest Scams Awareness month which is being led by Citizens Advice and Trading Standards.  To mark the occasion, Citizens Advice compared 3,600 cases involving scams logged between January and April 2017 with the same period last year.  The research discovered that more and more people are being tricked into paying on average, £1,100, for goods and services which do not exist.

These ‘phantom goods’ range from flights to furniture; jewellery and cameras to musical instruments; cars to car insurance and driving lessons. The scammers commonly advertise goods and services for sale very cheap on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and online marketplaces such as Gumtree and Ebay. Scammers will also post fake customer reviews to give the impression they are a reputable trader.

The Citizens Advice research also revealed:

  • a 17% increase in people reporting ‘phantom goods’ scams to the Citizens Advice consumer service year on year,
  • a much greater chance of losing money from this type of scam (96% of victims losing their money compared with 55% across all scam types).

In one case a young man paid £2,000 for car insurance he found on Instagram, bought from a seller recommended by positive comments from other users. The paperwork he was told would be emailed after he transferred the money never arrived. Another woman paid £5,000 to a fake PayPal website for a houseboat advertised for sale on Ebay after exchanging emails with the fake seller.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards advised people to be careful when buying online. “The web and social media platforms have created a new risk for consumers”, he said and went on to warn that “… 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.”

Top tips on how to avoid buying phantom goods

  1. 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 trader. For example, if you are booking a holiday check that a tour operator is ATOL protected or if you are buying a financial product that the seller is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
  2. Use to do a domain check on the trader’s web address by typing it in at  Make sure the trader’s full address and contact details are listed.
  3. 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://’.
  4. Always use a debit or credit card to pay for items bought online and avoid paying by bank transfer, as they can be difficult to trace which makes it more difficult to get your money back.

You can get advice on the offers contained in an advertisement, or help with how you can get your money back if you’ve been scammed, from the Citizens Advice consumer service: 03454 04 05 06 You can also report scams or suspected scams to Action Fraud: 0300 123 2040 or at

Finally, you can get information and advice on how to deal with Debt, Benefits, Work, Consumer Issues, Relationships, Housing, Law and Rights, Education, Discrimination, Tax and Healthcare by:

  • calling 0344 848 7969 to speak to an assessor or make an appointment to talk to an adviser face-to face. (calls to this service cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers included as part of a mobile allowance or a landline call package,
  • visiting to access our comprehensive range of information and advice,
  • or follow us on Twitter @WaverleyCAB
Share this article