CRIMINALS are using small ads website Gumtree to dupe consumers out of millions of pounds, it has been revealed.
Police are receiving around 250 crime and fraud allegations connected to the site, some of which have involved thefts and assaults.
Citizens Advice is now issuing a warning after it revealed that one in six consumer problems it has investigated associated with the website, which sells everything from cars to pets, was a scam or potential scam.
Figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureaux also show that online shopping and auction scams were the most common fraud reported in 2013 which cost UK consumers £63.6million.
The chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said: "Online marketplaces are at risk of becoming a hotbed for scams.
"These sites are an important service for buyers and sellers, but con artists are profiting from them too. Scammers are swindling people out of out of hundreds or thousands of pounds by posting false products and services online.
"Con artists are preying on those still trying to get back on their feet from the recession. Fake jobs and phoney homes are taking people’s deposits that they strived and saved so long for.
"Businesses need to get savvy to these spurious practices and take steps to stop consumers falling foul of scams."
Gumtree is vulnerable because the website does not vet or take identification details from its users, which means it can be used time and again by criminals who are difficult to trace.
The website is owned by eBay, which does have ID checking but is also vulnerable to criminal scams, according to research by Citizens Advice. It said one in ten problems it has looked at associated with eBay was a scam or potential scam.
The watchdog gave the example of a flat hunter who saw a property advertised on Gumtree and handed over £1,650 to the person he thought was the landlord. However, when he tried to move in, someone else was already living there.
In another case a man bought a car on eBay for £360 and spent another £700 on repairs, however it was then repossessed because the previous owner had failed to pay off an outstanding loan.