YOUNGSTERS have been warned not to accept lifts from strangers after it emerged that hundreds of people had signed up an illegal taxi service on a social networking website.
The Daily Echo has been made aware of two Facebook groups offering lifts around Bournemouth and Poole.
The groups, one of which has more than 2,000 members, encourage people to offer lifts and helps those looking for transport get in touch with drivers.
Members are able to post in the group either offering or asking for a lift at certain times. All the details are then finalised through private messages.
Messages insinuate a fee would need to be paid, although there is no mention of money changing hands in either of the groups' descriptions.
Some of the messages include, "doing lifts for £3 to most areas", "anyone needing lifts cheap?!££", "doing lifts all night ££", "lift in 20 minutes from Cameo?" and "bored so doing lifts".
Offering lifts is not a crime in itself, but becomes so when the driver asks for a fee above petrol costs.
Dorset Police and both Bournemouth and Poole councils have been made aware of the groups - but it is up to the local authorities to prosecute should any of the users be found to be operating illegally.
Peter Haikin, head of regulatory services for Bournemouth and Poole councils, said: "Anyone acting as a taxi operator or driving a taxi without a licence is in breach of the law and could face prosecution, with fines of up to £2,500.
"We are aware of both Facebook groups and are investigating to ascertain whether any users are operating illegally.
"If they are, we will take action to prevent further operations, which would include requesting Facebook to have the groups closed down.
"In the interests of safety and security, we would advise people not to use unlicensed taxis.”
Former Borough of Poole licensing committee chair Cllr Judy Butt has expressed her concerns about the groups and has warned that it is not just illegal but that people could be compromising their safety.
Cllr Butt added: "Unlike taxis these drivers are not regulated, not insured and have not been through the strict checks that those who have taxi licences have to go through.
"It remains to be seen what the intention is but there are definitely some concerns.
"I wouldn't want my children getting into a car with strangers that was unlicensed."
A Dorset Police spokesman added: "Our advice would be get a bus or licensed taxi and you’ll get home safely. Trust in what you know, not who you don’t."
Concerns about 'fake taxis' have been highlighted recently since a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted in Southampton after she got into a car believing it was a taxi