Facebook Marketplace scams – little to no protection

Facebook Marketplace is a scammer’s paradise because it is easy to circumvent merchant and buyer verification by using fake accounts. There are plenty of scammers posing as genuine sellers to rip-off buyers and vice-versa. It is moth-to-flame stuff.

We are not specifically picking on Facebook Marketplace – any third-party marketplace like Kogan and GumTree can suffer from the same issues. According to ThinkMoneyUK,

One in six surveyed have been scammed on Facebook Marketplace. The most common bait was a Facebook Friend recommendation. Scams will inevitably be much more common on this platform than in sites like eBay and Amazon that guarantee the integrity of the sale.

Why? Facebook Marketplace suffers from the social media malady – a false sense of security because you follow links allegedly recommended by friends or endorsed by others. Unlike eBay or Amazon, Facebook Marketplace shoppers have a lot more direct interaction and conversation with sellers.

Let’s look at the first steps in identifying a Facebook Marketplace scam

Scam sellers

  • Offer suspiciously low prices for items that sell for much more. Hint: if the discount is much more than 20-30%, something is wrong.
  • Launder stolen goods that you could forfeit if caught.
  • Steers you away from Facebook Messenger to other chat services to preserve anonymity
  • Will never allow personal inspection (even if Facebook’s location service says the goods are allegedly in the same city)
  • Bad spelling and grammar litter the site
  • Require your phone number, address, Google Gmail address, and other ID details but won’t reciprocate (anonymity)
  • Requires payment by gift card or bitcoin
  • Issues an invoice with a fake ABN (if a company seller)
  • Never sends the goods

Scam buyers

  • Willing to buy at the nominated price or even pay more to get it. Or overpay, claiming that they put the $ decimal point in the wrong place, and you have to refund it.
  • Sends you the shipping label (connote) to obscure the delivery address
  • Use a fake credit card or fake bank deposit (easily reversible). Insist on PayPal.
  • No profile photo.
  • Instances of intimidation and theft if they do meet you in person. Never meet at a private house and never meet alone.

#Rule 1 – if it is too good a deal to be true, then it’s a scam

Some particular scams to watch for

Several fake Facebook Marketplace sellers list the same item but all are sold out except one. This creates a sense of urgency – buy, or you will miss the deal of a lifetime.

You put it in the cart, provide payment and shipping details but don’t get an email confirmation of the transaction.

Or you get an excuse that you missed the last one, and the seller will get you another soon, but you need to leave a small deposit. Or they have something better at a little higher price (bait and switch). The goods never arrive, but your credit card, gift card, or peer-to-peer payment shows payment.

Another trick is that by buying from the seller, you are automatically in a competition or lottery. They send you a web link that downloads malware onto your computer or smartphone. Facebook does not verify outbound links, so users can include any link in a giveaway post. Don’t do it.

Things to avoid

Facebook Marketplace is littered with

  • Counterfeit luxury items – cheap knockoffs. Shoes, handbags, cosmetics, prescription drugs – any higher price, lower-volume goods. Chances are that it’s a fake!
  • Stolen items
  • Factory seconds sold as new
  • Short-term vacation rentals, unused timeshares or ‘unable to use hotel booking’ that the seller does not own or does not exist.
  • Scalped show tickets that don’t exist.
  • Pets needing a good home
  • Used or stolen cars

Is there any recourse?

In theory, there is some, but in practice, it is caveat emptor. Facebook has a purchase protection policy but only for items that conform to its policies. Scammers know how to circumvent the policies using third-party payment systems like Zelle, CashApp, Venmo etc., not the Facebook Checkout payment system. The claims limit is US$2000.

And you can report sellers, but it is a game of whack-a-mole as the same merchant pops up again under another fake name.

CyberShack’s view – Scamming is a well-honed art. What chance do you have against a professional scammer?

Just as you may have been top-of-your-game in your work-life, these scammers are top of their game. They are organised, do this for a living, and know all the loopholes.

All we can say is be careful online.

A current Aussie example

Aussie reader Alan (a well-off, Gen X, lawyer) requested we research this. He bought what was supposed to be the genuine Star Trek TNG in a collector’s alloy case, of which only 4000 individually numbered cases were made. These go for about US$1,000-4,000 for used and up to $10,000 in mint condition.

Being an avid Facebooker and hopeless Trekie tragic, he followed a link from a like-minded Facebook Friend to the merchant. He eagerly parted with the US$1,000 plus $100 for post and handling. The seller only accepted Zelle payments (but the buyer and seller must use US bank accounts). Long story short, the transaction was Bitcoin. The seller then used every tool at their disposal.

  • Seller: Sorry, it has just been sold. I think I can locate one more – give me a few days.
  • Seller: I can get a new, unused box for US$4,000 – but I need to know now.
  • Buyer: As it was half what it was worth, it should have run alarm bells. ‘OK, more bitcoin transferred’.
  • Seller: Hey, can you rate me as I have done such a good job for you? Here is a link. (It downloads malware and steals his details. Alan’s email address sends tonnes of spoofed spam and sends Facebook Friend recommendations to other scam sales sites).
  • Seller: OK, it will be there within 30 days (slow shipping from the US). That was back in February, and all attempts to find the seller via Facebook and other means have failed. Facebook protection policy does not apply.

CyberShack Consumer Advice