GROUPS running cash for lifts schemes could be prosecuted if members fail to comply with the law.

That's the message from police and councillors as warnings are issued about illegal lift sharing in Bournemouth and Poole.

It comes days after concerns were raised by taxi drivers in the Daily Echo about the rise in people using 'cash for lift' services.

More than 5,000 people are members of the Bournemouth and Poole Town Lifts group on Facebook.

The popularity of the group has rocketed in recent months, leading to concerns about public safety.

Dorset Police said: "We are aware of several Facebook groups which have been created in order to share lifts in and around the Bournemouth and Poole area.

"When getting into a vehicle with an unlicensed and unvetted stranger, you have no knowledge of their background and risk your own personal safety.

"Please consider an alternative journey home, either by contacting a trusted friend or relative, catching a bus or using a licensed taxi.

"Before offering a lift in exchange for money, you should speak to your insurance company as this could invalidate your insurance and may result in your vehicle being seized by police, a fixed penalty or prosecution resulting in a fine, points on your licence or disqualification from driving."

Cllr Andrew Morgan, chairman of the licensing committee said: "It has come to our intention that there are groups assisting with arranging lifts for people in and around Poole and Bournemouth.

"Whilst we acknowledge that lift and car sharing is a great way of reducing pollution and bringing the community together, it is only legal if the fees being charged are purely to cover the cost of petrol and running of the vehicle.

"If members of these groups are charging for lifts and making a profit they are acting as an illegal taxi and this invalidates their car insurance.

"The safety and security of passengers who are picked up at night by people in vehicles that have not been properly vetted for any potential crimes, particularly those involving vulnerable people, is of great concern to the Licensing Authority.

"If the administrators of any of these groups have any concerns or want to discuss the services, they are providing they can contact the Council Licensing Manager via email

"Failure to comply with legal requirements puts members of these groups liable to prosecution should they be found to be breaching the law."