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The most common Facebook Marketplace scams and how to avoid them

One problem with this unregulated economy is there are also scammers looking to rip people off.

Image: — © AFP Anatolii Stepanov
Image: — © AFP Anatolii Stepanov

Facebook Marketplace lets users buy and sell second-hand items, with over a billion shoppers every month. A consumer can buy pretty much anything it’s legal to sell – from televisions to wardrobes and even cars – on Facebook Marketplace.

One problem with this unregulated economy is there are also scammers looking to rip people off.

Dan Ariely, a published author on online misinformation, tells Digital Journal about the most common Facebook Marketplace scams to watch out for.

Payment and overpayment scams

More than 180 one-time content moderators in Africa are suing Facebook's parent company for harm they suffered in the role
More than 180 one-time content moderators in Africa are suing Facebook’s parent company for harm they suffered in the role – Copyright AFP JOEL SAGET

In this popular scam, thieves posing as buyers purchase an item might say they’ve paid for it, but actually haven’t. They could send a fake cheque, use a dodgy payment method, or even claim they’ve overpaid and want some cash back.

They might also try to use payment methods that can be easily cancelled after you’ve posted the item, leaving you out of pocket.

In order to prevent yourself from being victimised, Ariely suggests to:

  • Always check you’ve actually got the money before offering any refunds.
  • Make sure the funds have cleared completely in your account before posting anything.
  • Use payment methods that can’t be reversed after the sale.

Fake returns

In this scam, the buyer claims that they did not like or don’t want the item after buying it. They’ll then ask to return it for a full refund.

The scammer will then either keep the original item and never send it back, return a broken or different item altogether, or even provide fake tracking info to claim they’ve returned it. Either way, you lose out if you refund before getting the item back in the same condition.

In order to avoid this type of scam, Ariely recommends to always wait until you receive the item and check it before giving a refund.

Real estate scams

Sometimes, scammers will upload photos of a beautiful rental home at a price too good to be true. Once you’ve signed what seems like a proper lease, or even just sent some cash to “secure the deposit,” you might find someone else living there when you go there.

Scammers can list photos of houses or flats that they don’t own and “rent” them out unseen.

Ariely advises not to send deposits on anything expensive (including flat rentals) without checking it’s real first. If you can, always try to see the place in person before sending any payment.

The seller asks to be paid in gift cards

Gift card scams are becoming more common with online scamming. Instead of having a buyer pay through Facebook Marketplace or a payment app, scammers ask you to buy a gift card as a form of payment.

Bait-and-switch scams

This type of scam is common on Facebook Marketplace. Here’s how it works: the seller offers a fantastic product at a bargain price – way lower than you’d expect. The seller has no intention of selling the advertised item. Once you’re hooked, they’ll claim it’s gone, but they have a “similar” product you might like – for a higher price or much worse quality.

To avoid such scams, Ariely recommends:

  1. Verify the seller’s profile: Before making any transactions, take a close look at the seller’s profile, whether they have a decent profile with pictures, a history of activity, and connections.
  2. Only communicate through Facebook Messenger: Stay on Facebook Messenger for all your chats. Avoid sellers who try to switch to WhatsApp or email.
  3. Inspect the item before purchasing: Before you hand over the cash, take a good look at the item. Make sure it matches the seller’s description exactly. If you’re buying something pricey, consider meeting somewhere you can test it out properly before you buy.
  4. Avoid advanced payment requests: Never pay for something before it’s in your hands. Be wary of sellers asking for deposits, especially if they’re abroad or can’t meet in person.
  5. Check for reviews and ratings: Some Facebook Marketplace sellers have reviews. While not guaranteed, good ones from other buyers can be a bit reassuring. But be wary if there are no reviews, or if the ones there seem a bit fishy.
  6. Meet in public places: Meet in a pubic that’s well-lit, like a cafe or park. Avoid dodgy back alleys and don’t invite at your home or theirs. Bringing a friend along for company is a smart move too.
  7. Trust your instincts: If something feels wrong, trust your instincts and walk away. It’s better to miss out on a bargain than get stung. Your safety is more important than any deal.
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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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