Digital sales platforms like Facebook Marketplace can be great for buying pre-owned items or selling your things to make a little cash. And while many transactions are straightforward, scammers lurk in these marketplaces to find new victims. Facebook tries to stay on top of it and protect users from cyber criminals, but with all those listings, it’s tough, so we need to know how to protect ourselves as well.
“What makes these scams so successful for the fraudsters is the speed and ease with which new listings can be posted and the ability to reach an enormous audience of potential victims thanks to Facebook’s popularity,” explains Kevin Lee, a trust and safety architect with the fraud protection company Sift. Scams range from listing fake goods as legitimate in order to steal money to getting personal info from buyers to use for identity theft, and sometimes scammers take the payment and just never send the item.
Experts share the signs of a potential online marketplace scam and how to spot a fake listing, as well as what steps to take if you do fall for one.
- The listing or offer seems too good to be true - Sure it’s a cliche, but it’s definitely true when it comes to scams. Do your research and find out the typical price for the item you’re looking to buy so that you know if you see a deal that’s too good to be true, it’s probably a red flag.
- The payment method seems suspect - If the seller pushes you to use a payment method that sounds suspicious, like a wire transfer, cryptocurrency or prepaid gift cards, it could be a scam. Peer-to-peer apps like Venmo and CashApp are also untraceable and unretractable, so you could lose your money. To be safe, try paying in cash when you pick up the item in person, or not sending a digital payment until you have the item.
- They push for external communication - If they want to take the conversation to an external app or ask for your phone number, that’s a big red flag.
- All the images are stock photos - If they can’t send you a picture of the actual item, that could be a scam.
- If you think you’re being scammed - Stop communicating with the suspected scammer and take screenshots of conversations, ads and transaction details. Report the scammer, file a police report and notify the Federal Trade Commission.