Launched in 2016, Facebook Marketplace has become a go-to for anyone seeking a bargain.
With its user-friendly platform, Facebook Marketplace has some 1 billion users worldwide. It’s rapidly become one of the world’s most popular online marketplaces. Marketplace is relatively easy to set up and use – and since feedback is perhaps not as important as it is on Amazon, scams have increased rapidly and are harder to spot.
Fraudsters exploit the openness and accessibility of platforms like Facebook Marketplace to deceive unsuspecting users. Understanding and avoiding these scams is crucial for Facebook users seeking a safe and successful buying experience.
We have compiled a list of 9 scams commonly found on Facebook Marketplace that you should be aware of.
This a common scam that targets sellers in a rather cunning and unexpected way. Here, you sell an item, but things take a funny turn when they send you the payment, and it's significantly more than what you requested. They might screenshot the payment as proof it left an account.
Confused, you check your messages and find an 'oops' note from the buyer. They explain they made a 'mistake' and accidentally overpaid. Kindly, they request that you send the extra money back, proposing a bank transfer or suggesting you buy gift cards.
The payment that appeared in your account is likely fraudulent, possibly paid for with stolen credit cards, and your bank might not detect this immediately. When your bank’s fraud detection system kicks in, the payment bounces, leaving you in the lurch.
In the aftermath, not only is the 'extra' money you sent back gone, but you also lose the dubious payment. The so-called buyer has disappeared into thin air.
Never accept overpayments. When dealing with transactions, the payment should be the exact amount of the agreed-upon price.
Be wary of buyers who insist on sending payments that seem convoluted or suspect, and always opt for safer payment methods such as PayPal or Facebook's payment system, Meta Pay (also called Facebook Pay or Facebook Checkout).
Here, you might browse Facebook Marketplace and spot an incredible deal. The price is almost too good to be true, but you feel it’s worth a shot. You click the 'Buy' button and wait for the item to arrive.
You're staring at a sub-par, inferior knockoff when the item arrives. You contact the seller and explain, only for them to say that the item you wanted was damaged or sold out, and they thought this replacement would be fine. This is the bait-and-switch scam.
First, always check the item's details thoroughly before making a purchase. If the deal seems too good to be true, ask for more information, such as detailed photos, product specifications, or videos.
Second, if it's a local deal, consider arranging a public meeting to inspect the item before you hand over your hard-earned cash. This way, you can verify the condition and authenticity of the item right on the spot.
Finally, stick to secure payment methods like Facebook Pay, which comes with Facebook’s Purchase Protection policy. This policy can be your safety net in case of disputes, offering you the chance to challenge the transaction and potentially recover your money.
Fake account scam
Imagine you're scrolling through Facebook Marketplace and see a great deal. You message the seller and pay, but the item doesn’t arrive. Instead, your messages go unanswered, the seller's account disappears into thin air, and you find yourself left of pocket with nothing to show for it.
Here, fraudsters simply whip up brand new accounts to post imaginary items for sale. They often list high-demand or luxury items at bargain-basement prices, hoping to hook unsuspecting shoppers. It’s one of the most common Facebook Marketplace scams, as fraudsters can easily create new fake accounts at scale.
To avoid this, check out the seller's Facebook profile. Is the account relatively new? Does it have few friends and sparse interactions with others? Are they uploaded in rapid-fire succession?
Look for a genuine history of interaction on Facebook - comments, likes, shared content, and other signs of regular activity. An honest person would typically have a circle of friends and a variety of interactions over some time. Also, consider any reviews or ratings from previous transactions.
While Facebook has mechanisms for reducing these scams, they’re still pretty standard.
Gift card payment scams
Someone on Facebook Marketplace may ask you to pay for an item using gift cards. They might tell you it's the safest and quickest way to transfer money.
This is the 'Gift Card Payment Scam,’ where a scammer convinces you to buy a gift card from a specific retailer, load it with the agreed payment for the item you want, and then share the card's details with them.
Once they have those details, they can instantly drain the card's value. Gift cards are like cash – once the money's gone, it's gone for good.
Avoid any transaction that asks for payment via gift cards. Remember that legitimate sellers will accept secure methods like PayPal or Meta Pay. These options offer buyer protection and a far safer way to transfer funds.
Fraudulent invoice scams
Here, you purchase an item, and fraudsters send out invoices for the sale, complete with official logos and professional language, making it look like the real deal.
It's crucial to remember that Facebook Marketplace doesn't act as a middleman holding payments nor offers any protection for deals that take place off the platform. So, if you see an invoice claiming to be from Facebook for a Marketplace transaction, it's fake.
When buying and selling, always stick to secure, traceable methods. And keep your guard up for any messages that try to take you off the platform – these are often signs of a scam brewing.
Escrow services can be a secure way to handle payments – if they're genuine. In this scam, fraudsters masquerade as third-party agents promising to hold your money securely until you receive your goods. They create professional-looking websites that mirror real escrow services.
Never agree to use an escrow service suggested by the seller, particularly if they push you toward a specific website.
If you use an escrow service, stick to the well-known, reputable ones. And remember, it's always safer to type in the website's URL directly into your browser rather than clicking a link the seller sends you.
Now Facebook Marketplace offers Meta Pay – there’s little need to use escrow services.
Phishing scams are widespread on Facebook, where a fraudster will send you a link (usually through Facebook Messenger) and ask you to click on it. You could find yourself on a site crawling with malware or a fake Facebook login page.
If you enter your login details on this page, the scammer can now access your personal Facebook account and do untold damage. Many fake pages come with compelling logos, graphics, and on-screen instructions.
Phishing scams go hand in hand with Facebook marketplace, as either sellers or buyers could trick you into heading onto one of these dodgy sites and steal your details.
Never click on a suspicious link, often characterized by a different URL than expected, and never share your login details. Facebook won't ask you to verify your login credentials via Facebook Marketplace.
You may spot fraudsters creating posts or ads offering high-value items or gift cards as contest prizes and advertising them on Facebook Marketplace.
While entering, they may ask you to hand over personal info like your email address or bank account details.
Always be wary of giveaways asking for personal or financial info, and double-check who's hosting the contest.
Advance payment scam
The advance payment scam is a relatively new scam where sellers exploit highly trending or rare items and ask for advanced payments.
They may show they’ve purchased a limited item, offering a tracking number as proof. Then they’ve received payment, and they disappear. This is dangerous, as Meta Pay protection lasts for 60 days. Never agree to an advanced payment for an item that isn’t in hand or involves a substantial delay in delivery.
How to prevent Facebook scams
Research sellers and buyers
First and foremost, always research the potential buyer or seller to make sure they are a real person. Good feedback and other reputable markers are positive signals but can still be fake. Here’s what to look out for:
- Evaluate profiles: A legitimate seller’s profile usually has a substantial history of posts and interactions with others over several months. They would have shared pictures, comments, and other content indicating active social media presence. Conversely, fake or scammer profiles often lack content and might have been recently created.
- Consider their friend list: Look at their friends list. If a profile has an unusually low number of friends or if their friends don't seem to have real profiles themselves, this may indicate a fake profile.
- Read ratings and reviews: Remember to check the seller or buyer's ratings or reviews, especially if they are available on Facebook Marketplace. A pattern of negative reviews or a complete absence of reviews can be warning signs.
- Check previous listings: Also, take a look at their past listings. Have they been selling or buying on the marketplace for a while, or did they just start? Are their items diverse and reasonable, or do they seem too good to be true?
Inspect items before purchase
Always try to check items before buying, especially if they’re valuable.
- Arrange for physical inspection: If you're dealing locally, arrange a public meetup to inspect the item personally, as this enables you to verify the item's condition and authenticity before making any payment. Choose a well-lit, busy public place for the meetup.
- Request detailed photos: If a personal inspection isn't possible because the item will be posted, ask the seller to provide detailed photos taken from various angles. These should give a clear depiction of the item's condition. A legitimate seller will understand your concerns and be open to providing the necessary information.
- Ask about warranties, receipts, or proof of purchase: For high-value items, don't hesitate to ask about warranties, receipts, proof of purchase, or even authenticity certificates.
Use secure payment methods
Facebook Pay has made Facebook Marketplace considerably safer, but many scenarios exist where buyers and sellers wish to transact outside of Facebook Pay.
- Avoid untraceable methods: Scammers often prefer untraceable payment methods like wire transfers, gift cards, or certain digital currencies. Avoid these payment methods, even if the buyer or seller insists, as they offer no protection in case of a scam. Using Cash App, Zelle, or Venmo for online purchases is also not recommended.
- Choose secure methods: Use secure payment methods like Facebook Pay or PayPal. These platforms offer buyer protection and can facilitate dispute resolution if the item is not as described or never arrives. Facebook Pay, for example, comes with Purchase Protection that covers eligible items purchased on Facebook Marketplace. It’s the gold standard, and there’s little need to stray from it unless you’re paying in cash.
Be wary of too-good-to-be-true deals
As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is! One of the most common red flags of scams on Facebook Marketplace is deals that appear incredibly enticing and unbelievable. The same applies to purchases made on eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist.
- Assess the pricing: Consider the current retail price tag of the item in question. Is the price offered by the seller significantly lower? If the discount seems excessive, it could be a scam. For example, if you come across a trending item, a brand-new iPhone or a luxury handbag, etc., offered at half or less of their usual retail price, this could be a bait-and-switch tactic often used by scammers to attract victims.
- Question the deal: Always question why the seller is willing to part with such a valuable item for so little. Are they providing a plausible reason? Is the item second-hand or damaged? Even so, does the reduced price seem reasonable for its condition? You should walk away if the answers don't add up.
- Do your research: Look for similar items on the marketplace. How does the price compare? An outlier could signal a scam. Consider the seller’s history – do they often sell high-value items at low prices?
Recognize phishing attempts
Be extremely cautious if a buyer or seller asks for sensitive information, as this could be an attempt to gather your details for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or fraud.
- Refuse information requests: It's essential to refuse any requests to provide such sensitive information. Never share your banking details, phone number, credit card number, or personal data with strangers. If a user insists on obtaining this information, it's a clear red flag.
- Beware of verification scams: If you receive a request to click on a link to " verify" your Facebook account, do not proceed. It is probably a phishing scam in which the perpetrator produces a false Facebook login page to steal your login details.
- Always report sellers or buyers if you suspect scams: If you ever encounter or suspect fraud on Facebook Marketplace, report it, as this helps keep the Marketplace safer for everyone.
Staying safe on Facebook Marketplace
While Facebook Marketplace has tightened its anti-fraud strategies recently, it’s essential to remain vigilant. Follow Facebook's safety guidelines for using the marketplace and promptly report any suspicious activity.
Use secure payment methods like Facebook Pay or Paypal, and never share unnecessary personal or financial information for transactions. Consider meeting in a public place and inspecting the item in person. If you are meeting face-to-face to pick up an item, choose a busy high street spot in the daytime.
If you’ve been a victim of fraud on Facebook Marketplace, report it to the FBI or your local police department.
Image Credit: Tobias Dziuba at Pexels