Citizens Advice Scotland in 'rogue' payday brokers warning
Scots who want to take out a payday loan are being "ripped off" by online middlemen before they even get to apply for the money, according to a report.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said there had been a rise in complaints about payday credit broking websites in the past year.
The brokers' role is to put consumers in touch with payday lenders.
But CAS said its consumer helpline handled 254 cases involving "rogue" brokers last year.
The figure was more than 40% up on the previous year.
CAS said a lot of credit brokers provided "a legitimate service".
However, the report found there was growing evidence that many brokers did not make it clear that they were not the lender.
It also found some charged hidden fees, passed on people's personal details to other companies and refused to provide refunds when challenged.
CAS head of policy Susan McPhee said: "It's bad enough that so many people are falling into debt through the actions of some payday lenders - which of course remains a big issue.
"But this trend is something on top of that, which is leading people into financial hardship before they even take out the payday loan.
"A lot of credit brokers provide a legitimate service - searching the market on your behalf to find a lender who suits your circumstances.
"However, it's clear from our evidence that many brokers are in fact exploiting consumers, taking money off them without their knowledge.
"Our advice to anyone who is searching online for a payday loan is to be very cautious and read the small print of any website you deal with."
Earlier this month, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) said complaints about payday loan middlemen had more than doubled in the last year.
In the worst cases, consumers said they had found hundreds of pounds "drained" from their bank accounts by the websites.
The credit brokers have previously insisted that most customers are happy with their services.