Facebook Marketplace Scams to Watch Out For
Buyer beware: Lots of scammers set up shop on Facebook Marketplace. Here's how to avoid falling victim to one.
More than one billion users buy and sell goods on Facebook Marketplace each month—but they are not the only ones cashing in. Fraudsters are using Facebook Marketplace to steal people’s money, making it a hotbed for scams. “Unlike eBay or Amazon, Facebook Marketplace shoppers have a lot more direct interaction and conversation with sellers,” says Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech, a cybersecurity company. “That creates opportunities for scammers to trick victims into a number of scams with less oversight.”
These scams may look convincing, but they share certain red flags that make them easier to spot. Below, experts discuss the most common Facebook Marketplace scams and how to avoid them, so you can protect your money from criminals while you shop.
Paying or communicating outside of Facebook
Beware of buyers and sellers who insist on communicating or receiving payments outside of Facebook’s official channels. “Scammers often want to get your money in a way that is irretrievable,” like through a wire transfer or Venmo payment, Bischoff says. “In addition to outside payment methods, they might also convince victims to call or chat outside of Facebook, where their correspondence can’t be monitored.” Facebook’s Purchase Protection policies only cover payments made through PayPal or Facebook Checkout, so there is no guarantee you will get your money back if you pay with another method. Sticking to official systems will protect you if something goes wrong, according to experts. (Here’s how to protect yourself from Facebook Messenger scams.)
When purchasing items through Facebook Marketplace, “buyers run the risk of not receiving the items they pay for, either via non-delivery or by being delivered anything but what they pay for,” says Chris Hauk, a consumer privacy expert at Pixel Privacy. His advice: Use Facebook Marketplace’s filters to narrow your search to the items available for local pickup, and meet the seller in a public, well-lit, and visible location so you can examine the product before paying. If you must receive an item by mail, Hauk suggests requesting a shipping tracking number and paying with Facebook-supported payment methods such as PayPal or Facebook Checkout to protect your purchase.
Selling counterfeit items
Don’t be fooled by a great deal on a designer purse or rare gaming console. Facebook Marketplace is filled with counterfeit or pirated items with price tags suspiciously below market rate. “Always keep in mind the old adage: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Hauk says. “If a seller is asking well below the usual asking price for an item, they’re likely up to something.” In addition to looking up the typical price of an item beforehand, Hauk recommends checking a seller’s profile for negative reviews and avoiding newly created accounts with no reviews at all. You should also request multiple photos and even a video of the item before purchasing. (Don’t miss the 13 signs an Amazon seller can’t be trusted.)
Overpaying the seller
Believe it or not, sellers can get scammed by fraudsters, too. In one common scheme, a buyer will use counterfeit funds to pay the seller more than the requested amount for the item, then claim to have made a mistake and request a partial refund. The victim will return the overage amount, but the original payment never ends up in the seller’s account, so the victim is stuck paying the bill while the criminal pockets the money. Hauk says you can protect yourself from these Facebook Marketplace scams by declining overpayments and requesting all payments through Facebook-approved channels. (Again, PayPal and Facebook Checkout are your best bets here.)
Requesting advance payments
You should never agree to pay for an item before receiving it, according to Matthew Paxton, founder of tech and gaming website Hypernia. Known as a “reservation” or “pay-in-advance” scheme, “this is one of the easiest ways to get scammed,” he says. A fraudster may tell you that the item is popular and ask you to place a deposit or advance payment to secure your spot. Odds are, you will never receive the item, and the scammer will disappear with your money. Paxton advises exchanging the money and the item at the same time, preferably in a well-lit, public location. When meeting a seller in person, Facebook suggests bringing another person with you or sharing your meeting plan with a friend or family member as an added precaution.
Creating fake accounts
Before purchasing something on Facebook Marketplace, take a close look at the seller’s profile. Some scammers set up fake Facebook accounts to trick people into buying fake or non-existent items and then disappear with the money. One of the key things to look for is the date that the Facebook account was created. Brand-new accounts should be a red flag, according to Burton Kelso, a tech expert at Integral, an on-site computer service. “In this day and age, most people will have a Facebook that was created at least over 10 years ago,” he says. “If you see a Facebook account that was created within the past couple of months, buyer beware.”
Listing phony rentals
Heads up, house hunters: Not all apartment and home rental listings on Facebook Marketplace are legitimate. “We have found that this is a niche that is rife with scammers,” says Sebastian Illing, cofounder of Alpaca Technology, which filters through thousands of listings on Facebook. “There are various apartment rental scams we’ve encountered, such as listings using fake or misleading pictures, bait-and-switch rental prices, charging illegal fees for background checks, and even posting rentals owned by other people.” Don’t fill out an application or transfer money until you have toured the property in person and confirmed its availability.
Selling items that don’t work
One of the most popular Facebook Marketplace scams is selling an item that doesn’t work, according to Kelso. “This can happen especially when purchasing computers or other tech devices,” he says. The seller knows that the item is broken but hopes that you won’t check the item before handing over the money. When you purchase items like electronics, Kelso recommends turning on and testing the devices to make sure that they work properly before paying. And “don’t allow yourself to be pressured to make a deal,” Hauk says. “If the seller—or buyer, for that matter—pushes you to make a fast decision, walk away from the deal. If it smells fishy, it probably is.” (Read the story of how one man fell for an email scam—and why it could happen to you.)
Advertising fake giveaways
Like many other Facebook Marketplace scams, giveaways that seem too good to be true probably are. Bad actors post links to fake cryptocurrency giveaways on their profiles, hoping that unsuspecting users will click on them, says Patrick Moore, co-founder of the cryptocurrency site CryptoWhat. “Scammers are able to use [Facebook] as a space for their own advertising purposes because anyone can list something on the page without any verification process in place,” he explains. By clicking on the link, victims might download malware onto their computers, allowing hackers to access sensitive information like passwords to email and bank accounts.
Requiring car deposits
Demand for vehicles on Facebook Marketplace is booming, but buyers should think twice before placing a deposit on one. Scammers often ask buyers to transfer a small fee to hold a car, then give them a fake address when it’s time to meet up, according to Piyush Yadav, owner of the price comparison website Ask Any Difference. Instead of trusting an online seller’s promises, do your research ahead of time by checking Kelley Blue Book or other trusted sites to learn what you should expect to pay. Facebook’s Help Center also recommends requesting a vehicle history report from the Federal Trade Commission and scheduling a car inspection before buying. (Check out these tips for buying a used car.)
If a seller changes the price of an item after you message them, walk away, Paxton says. It could be a sign that you are dealing with a scam called bait-and-switch, in which a scammer lures in customers with a low price but then tries to sell them a different, more expensive item. “As soon as they show signs of inconsistency, back out,” Paxton says. “It’s not worth the drama.” Facebook Marketplace’s guidelines also suggest declining requests from the seller “to make additional payments for shipping or other previously unlisted charges after the transaction is complete.”
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
Facebook Marketplace is constantly searching for scams and removing listings that violate their policies, but they don’t catch everything. If you believe you have been scammed, you should immediately report the incident to Facebook and block the scammer, experts say. To report a seller on Facebook Marketplace, click the Marketplace icon in the left-hand corner of your screen, click the listing from the seller that you want to report, and then click on the name of the seller. From there, click the three-dot icon and select Report Seller; then follow the on-screen instructions. You can also alert the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Next, learn how to avoid these 10 online scams.