An Important Announcement from Garbo

Facebook Marketplace Scams Everyone Should Know About

February 28, 2022
Brea Threatt

Facebook Marketplace is an offshot of Facebook that is a classified advertisement section that allows users to buy and sell various things, like phones, gaming systems, clothing, bicycles, jewelry — even furniture and vehicles, directly through the Facebook app. If you want to purchase or sell something on Marketplace, all you need is a Facebook account.

Before Facebook Marketplace, users would join a Facebook Group to buy, sell, and trade items. Local neighbors and members of the community would open or join a Group to post things they had for sale and look for items from others, essentially creating a virtual garage sale experience. Facebook revamped this initial concept and rolled out Marketplace to iPhone and Android users in the United States, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand in 2016.

Unfortunately, since Marketplace is incorporated into one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and it is so easy to use, cybercriminals and scammers are constantly developing new schemes to capitalize on its popularity.

Keep reading to learn more about how bad actors use Facebook Marketplace and safety tips on how to avoid Facebook Marketplace Scams.

How Facebook Marketplace works

It's quite simple to post an ad to Marketplace; once you're logged into Facebook, you have the option to create new listings where you can select a category for your listing. Next, enter a description for the item (if you want to add more than one item to your listing, enter the amount you have in stock under Available quantity). Finally, upload a photo of your item and publish the ad!

Sellers have the option to post exclusively on Marketplace or share the post to your Facebook News Feed so all of your friends can be notified about the listing too. Buyers can find specific items by searching and filtering their results based on location, price, and subcategories.

Users can communicate to each other about product details, price negotiations, and shipping or pickup schedules using Facebook Messenger. Sellers can arrange for local pickup if they are in the same proximity as the buyer, and some items may even be eligible for a shipping option.

Benefits of using Facebook Marketplace

For Consumers: Marketplace is not the first successful Consumer to Consumer (C2C) sales platform, but unlike Craigslist or eBay, which allow users to post anonymously, each Marketplace listing is connected to a Facebook account.

Not only does this help build trust by allowing the potential customer to scope out who they are doing business with before they commit, but it's also convenient since Marketplace users don't have to set up a separate account to sell products. It also enables communities to connect with each other by building relationships with neighbors.

For Businesses: In May 2020, Facebook announced it would expand their e-commerce platform by permitting Business to Consumer (B2C) sales, allowing eligible retailers to set up an official business page and sell to Marketplace users. Car dealerships and real estate agents or property managers can also list their inventory on Marketplace using their business page. While amazon seamlessly integrates a C2C, B2C, and B2B platform, sellers are typically required purchase an annual membership or pay a small service fee for every sales transaction—which doesn't happen on Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook has also integrated with BigCommerce and Shopify, two popular cloud-based e-commerce platform that offers a range of online store management features (online payment methods, marketing content, analytics, order fulfillment, etc.), and hosting and security services for online store. Once the store’s catalog is connected to Facebook, businesses can increase sales and build its brand by advertising products across Facebook and Instagram.

The downsides of Facebook Marketplace

Marketplace scams are part of a bigger problem: Facebook’s hands-off approach to overseeing its platform — even with a user base of nearly 3 billion. Facebook is constantly launching new products and features, yet they rely on automated systems and reactive content moderation to enforce its Community Standards.

This approach has allowed misinformation to spread on through feeds, Facebook groups to grow into seedbeds of violent speech and radicalization, and enabled cybercriminals to earn millions by hacking and ripping off users through Facebook Marketplace scams.

Cybercriminals have also been able to access personal information to commit identity fraud, or harass and stalk individuals online. Even when users are accused of violent crimes related to Marketplace transactions, Facebook doesn’t appear to ban them from continuing to buy or sell on the platform, or even terminate their profile in most cases.

Common Facebook Marketplace scams

While Marketplace is popular with Facebook users, its simplicity and accessibility has been has also made it popular with cybercriminals and scammers.

Moving the transaction away from Facebook and using another social media site, chat app, or email is an immediate red flag. One reason for this may be to protect the scammer by removing any signs of a digital trail that you could use to prove that a scam took place. Scammers can avoid having their accounts shut down by Facebook since little to no evidence of a scam will exist on the service. You should stop responding if someone requests that you continue the transaction outside of Facebook.

Gift cards should never be accepted as payment because they are anonymous, so once you’ve handed them over there’s no record of the transaction as there is with virtually any other payment method, which is never a good idea for any online shopping platform.

Appearing to overpay the seller is a scam committed by fraudulent buyers who may use counterfeit funds or a fake receipt indicating that they paid the seller more than the listed price for the item. They then claim to have made a mistake and request a partial refund for the money they sent you when in reality no money was ever transferred.

Counterfeit goods are an imitation or replica version of another company’s product. It usually copies the trademark (name or logo) and/or distinctive features of that other company’s product to imitate a genuine product — scammers may even create fake brand accounts to push counterfeit goods. If you are shopping on a business page, make sure they have a blue verification badge (blue check mark).  

Do not trust listings with professional pictures of a product that came directly from the manufacturer or business's website. Not only is it a copyright infringement, but it usually indicates the item is not in good condition — or they may not even own the item they are advertising.

Selling stolen items, especially electronic devices, has become a common trend. With the price of smartphones, tablets, and computers steadily rising, lots of consumers check the Marketplace for deals and price drops. While Marketplace can't reduce theft, they have taken measures to verify ownership.

Operating systems have also tightened up to help prevent theft and unauthorized resales. Apple's Activation Lock, for example, is a feature on iOS devices that does not allow the device to be unlocked or activated, even if it is erased. The only way to disable the Activation Lock is to log into the device's Apple ID account or contact Apple and verify your ownership.

Swapping out the advertised item for a damaged/dysfunctional version, or simply advertising the authentic item and supplying you with a fake is another simple tactic that scammer successfully use. In rare cases, buyers may also reverse this scam to sellers by purchasing a legitimate item, swapping it with a defective or broken replica, and opening a Purchase Protection claim, accusing the seller of false and misleading advertisements. In particular, beware of items like headphones, clothing, brand-name sneakers and fashion accessories, like bags, sunglasses, fragrances, jewelry and watches, and other small goods.

5 Safety tips for avoiding Facebook Marketplace scams when buying:

  1. Verify the seller by visiting their Facebook profile. It’s very easy to create fake user profiles and many of the fraudsters on Facebook Marketplace use fake profiles to lure in potential victims. Take a close look at their profile picture, any ratings they've received from other buyers, how many friends and posts they have, and when their Facebook account was created.
  2. Ignore messages and posts from unknown users asking for personal information, loans, or money. Do not contact a seller to inquire about an ad posting outside of Facebook Messenger. Never give out your phone number, address, passwords, or send money, devices, and other gifts directly to someone who you don’t know in person.  
  3. Get details about the condition of the item. Before purchasing anything from marketplace, be sure that you inspect the item to make sure that it’s not damaged, faulty, recalled, or stolen. Ask the seller to send you different angles of the item so you know they actually have it in their possession. Do not send deposits for apartment rentals or vehicles without inspecting it in person first.
  4. Research the typical price and value of the item you're looking for to make sure you’re not being overcharged. For cars, you can also try getting a vehicle history report. Be cautious about any listings with unusually low prices, too. If a listing price seems too good to be true, it may be a scam.
  5. Limit high-value purchases and transactions. For high-value items (e.g., watches, luxury bags, brand-name headphones), you can request a certificate of authenticity or proof of purchase to ensure it is not a counterfeit. Whether you meet in public, or submit a digital payment, completing a transaction with a large payment makes you the perfect target for a thief or setup, so make sure that the seller is credible and has a visible history of selling high-value products before making further arrangements.

5 Safety tips for avoiding Facebook Marketplace scams when selling:

  1. Verify the buyer by visiting their profile. Look for any unusual recent activity, any ratings they've received from other sellers, and when their Facebook account was created.
  2. Use a digital form of payment. Complete your purchase directly through Facebook using checkout or a peer-to-peer money transfer service, like PayPal, that will encrypt, or shield, your financial information. If you are shipping an order, verify the payment method before you ship the item.
  3. Take high quality photos of your item. Be sure to use photos that have good lighting and high resolution. Not only do they make your listings more appealing, but you can show physical condition of your products, along with a description about any issues or flaws, and if the item is new or used. You can always edit your listing to change the description or add photos later.
  4. List the actual price you're asking for the item upfront. Setting the price that is lower than expected is a sales fraud tactic, known as "bait-and-switch", that lures customers in with a low price on items that turn out to be unavailable in order to pressure buyers into "switching" to a more pricier item. This can be confusing and misleading for buyers, and goes against the Commerce Policies.
  5. After the sale is complete, mark the item as sold and keep a file of your sold items and the transaction history in case a customer attempts to file a Purchase Protection claim or open a dispute over the item you sold them. If you are selling an electronic device, clear all of your personal information from the device and reset it to help protect your privacy. Write down the device's serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number in case you need it later.

Ways to take action against Facebook Marketplace scams:

Negative experiences

If you have a negative experience while completing a transaction with someone on Marketplace, you can rate the buyer to help other people who are considering buying or selling to them on Marketplace. Ratings are only available on Facebook app for iPhone or Android.

Not interested

If you do not want to interact with a specific Facebook profile or view their Marketplace listings on your current news feed, you can block the buyer or seller and you can also adjust your privacy settings, if necessary.

If you notice suspicious activity

Facebook constantly scans Marketplace to remove listings that violate their policies, but they don't catch everything. If you come across a questionable Facebook profile or a misleading ad, don't hesitate to report the buyer, seller or listing to Facebook. You will find a Report option on every page, post, and direct message.

Failure to comply with the Commerce Policies and all other applicable laws and regulations may result in a variety of consequences, including, but not limited to, removal of listings and other content, rejection of product tags, or suspension or termination of access to any or all Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp commerce surfaces or features.

If you have been scammed

If you think you are the victim of a Facebook scam, the first thing you should do is report the scam to Facebook and change your login credentials. If you used the same password elsewhere, change it there, too.

You should also monitor your financial accounts for any unauthorized transactions and look out for any suspicious activity. Depending on the type of information you disclosed, it may also be a good idea to freeze your credit cards and subscribe to an identity theft monitoring service.

Contact your local law enforcement if you have any reason to be concerned about your physical safety.

While it may be simple and convenient to use Facebook Marketplace, buying and selling online can come with risks, depending on how and from whom you purchase items from.

Being smart in how you shop and sell by identifying common red flags and scams can help make all of your Marketplace transactions safe and easy.

Make sure you're also on the lookout for romance scams and other online dating scams.

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