Nearly 300 people, including 34 children in Scotland have been found in situations of slavery since the launch of a UK-wide helpline 18 months ago.

Care washes and nail bars are the most common form of modern slavery according to a charity working to eradicate sexual and economic exploitation.

Unseen, which runs the UK-wide Modern Slavery Helpline, says more than 82 alleged cases involving up to 297 victims have been recorded in Scotland since it was launched in October 2016.

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen said cases had been recorded in 19 of the 32 Scottish local authority areas. "This report underlines the fact that slavery is all around us. It is at the car wash, the nail bar, the takeaway and the hotel, as well as the farms that grow our food.

"It is not a problem taking place far away that we can't do anything about, it's under our noses and we can arm ourselves by learning to spot the signs of slavery and report it to the Helpline," he said.

A report to be launched today will reveal that 61 per cent of cases so far have been related to exploitation at work, while sexual exploitation was a factor in 17 per cent.

In all, more than 200 reports were made online or by phone to the helpline, where workers weed out cases which don't appear to qualify as slavery – such as someone complaining about their boss – before sending a referral to police, councils or charities. Unseen also runs safe houses for adults and children who have been trafficked or exploited.

Modern slavery was most commonly reported at car washes (15 cases) and nail bars (11 cases), with one in ten of the alleged victims Romanian in origin. Just over one in 20 was British, while five of the 34 children identified were Scottish.

Justin Currell, Executive Director at Unseen, said a Scottish Government trafficking awareness campaign last Autumn had seen a spike in calls, : "We have been able to identify more and more potential victims as awareness grows around this hidden crime," she said.

Unseen is calling on the public to look out for signs that someone may be being exploited. Victims of modern slavery may look undernourished or unkempt, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse, the charity says. Other indications include someone who is isolated or seems under the control of others, whose documentation is held by someone else, who travels at unusual times or is living in poor or cramped conditions. Victims may also be reluctant to engage with strangers or seek help.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Through the publication of Scotland’s first Trafficking Strategy and implementation of the 2015 Trafficking Act, we are working with partners to raise awareness and improve our response to this terrible crime and are taking forward work to further support victims and crack down on perpetrators.

“Last year saw a 38% increase in trafficking referrals from Scotland, with the largest increase in labour exploitation. This suggests that we are getting better at identifying and reporting victims of trafficking, and ensuring they receive the help and support they need.”