Facebook Marketplace: How Meta Can Do More to Prevent Scams and Fraud.

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A dozen suspiciously cheap cars for sale on Facebook Marketplace account 16 Feb 2024 (ref: AdlNwz)
A dozen suspiciously cheap cars for sale on Facebook Marketplace account 16 Feb 2024

What is Facebook Marketplace?

Facebook Marketplace is an online trading website where Facebook members can trade new and second-hand items. Facebook Marketplace has “over one billion shoppers per month” according to The Times (1) Facebook Marketplace is owned by Meta Platforms who also own several other social media companies including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The e-commerce platform “connects sellers and buyers through meaningful interactions and unique goods” say the company who are competing with other established classified advertising sites like eBay and Craigslist. (2)

Keep Facebook Marketplace purchases simple and affordable just in case

If you are new to using Facebook Marketplace or any other online selling platform it is advisable to make relatively small purchases, compared to your overall monthly budget, in order to manage any risk in inadvertently entering into a significantly dodgy deal. If you are selling things you own, it is preferable to meet unknown buyers outside your home, or in a public place.

It is a good idea to arrange to physically try out any object or piece of equipment you intend to buy, to make sure it is good working order. Check it looks exactly as you imagine and performs as you expect it to, before handing out any hard-earned cash. (3)

Users can usually avoid fraudsters by being tech savvy and using common sense

Several of the aforementioned scams are also common on other sites and apps in 2024. It is not just Facebook Marketplace that is affected by fraudsters and thieves. However, the advice is ‘buyer beware’ and check everything out carefully. If something looks too good to be true it probably is.

Taking a friend to personally visit properties advertised online is advisable especially for women (who are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assault in the UK). (4)  It is prudent to avoid spending any money if you are tired or if you have had a drink or two, as online fraud is increasingly sophisticated.

Monitoring young people’s purchases on Facebook Marketplace with a caring oversight is worthwhile. It is also wise to support older folk, who may be easy prey to technologically savvy deceptive actors online, as many seniors did not embrace the digital era until relatively late in their lives.

When shopping online and on Facebook Marketplace using a credit card can offer some protection on faulty items, or in the case of if a purchase is not received as expected. Using PayPal for online purchases can offer extra protection as well as obscuring your banking details as this ‘third party’ payment gateway can get involved to help resolve the issue if there are any problems.

Josh Kirby at The Times Money Mentor suggests that PayPal might be able to refund a payment if the item is not received satisfactorily, especially if the product purchased is described specifically in the ‘Goods and Services’ function of PayPal’s website. (1)

If the worst should happen Facebook Marketplace do offer the facility of reporting any suspected scams in a section called ‘more options’ (see top right once in your account) but it is better to proceed on the side of caution in the first place. Never be rushed into paying for a product as this is a technique often used by those who want to stress innocent internet users into making an expensive mistake online.

Potential Pitfalls of Facebook Marketplace: Financial Scams

Unfortunately, there are also negative aspects to buying on Facebook Marketplace. The Times lists fake payment confirmations, counterfeit currency and rental scams as the top three methods of committing fraud which leads to the financial detriment of genuine Facebook users. (1)

“The drawback is that there isn’t a built-in payment feature, so it’s down to you to arrange payment or meet up in person.” states UK based Which magazine. (5)

Fake payment confirmations can mean a situation where scammers pretend, they have paid you for items that you have given them, when in fact they have not paid at all. They might use fake branded graphic images to convince you that they have paid in full using a well-known payment transfer service, when this is actually a lie.

There are several ‘varieties on a theme’ of delivery scam. A frequent delivery scam can occur when an unexpecting consumer may be duped into paying freight or courier charges, in order to deliver a tempting but fictional advertised purchase (such as a second-hand car) that will then never arrive.

Always check a car’s registration details with an online vehicle history report check, before you commit to anything. See the advice from the UK governments website (link below) on how to ‘buy and sell a vehicle’ in a hassle-free way. (6)

Genuine Facebook users accounts can be hacked in order to provide a legitimate looking profile, to advertise a distrustful seller’s wares. It is smart to be suspicious of any accounts that look like individuals that are currently selling dozens of expensive items, such as automobiles.

We found that there were sellers are selling 40 or more cars that are obviously priced ‘too cheap’ on one individual Facebook Marketplace account. It is an easy fix for Facebook Marketplace’s algorithms to pick up and then flag these dodgy traders, that are posing as legitimate members of the public, as possibly fraudulent offers.

It would take a capable programmer a minute or two (and one or two lines of code) to make a system that marks an account as ‘likely fraudulent’ and suspend the questionable adverts, pending an investigation by a member of Facebook Marketplace staff, to manually check if it actually is a in fact a genuine seller on not.

Facebook Marketplace is designed for members of the public in a community to privately trade with each other in good faith. Therefore, if posts look like a commercial scale showroom, it should send warning signals into the minds of any law-abiding citizen, that they need to proceed with caution.

It is always sensible to follow a selling website’s guidelines. Staying within the apps messaging service (instead of corresponding with direct personal emails) for example is intelligent, as this request can help to flag up warning signs of a rogue seller who is trying to break the rules, for their own illicit monetary gain.

Any sensitive personal information such as contact information can be used to try and obtain credit (or another type of benefit) by untrustworthy sellers. Extra caution when sharing private details is needed when corresponding on Facebook Marketplace or any other website.

Gift card scams involve a residential customer being asked to purchase gift cards to pay for a variety of online items. The untrustworthy sellers ask the buyer to transfer the numeric reference details of one or more genuine voucher plastic store cards. If someone asks to be paid in gift cards, it is a scam!

‘See it to believe it’ and prevent fraud when shopping online

Scammers may turn up at your house or place of work and try to pay for products you have advertised on Facebook Marketplace using fake or counterfeit money. Always check cash carefully. The Bank of England has issued an excellent leaflet that can help anyone easily check that cash notes are definitely issued by the English Bank, using the security features that are pre-designed into each note. (7)

Verifying any accommodation in person is absolutely crucial. This is because rental scams are common on Facebook Marketplace. It is easily misleading when criminals create sophisticated and inviting posts about accommodation that appears available, complete with attractive accompanying images.

Shockingly, often rental properties posted on Facebook Marketplace are just imitations of previously let flats and houses and the fraudsters are just after your deposit transfer.  Any digital payments made in advance will then not be returned, when you then discover the awful truth about the non-existent home.

The UK government has a service called RentProfile that uses Land Registry data to check that landlords actually own property they are renting out, which helps detect rental fraud. (8)

Potential Pitfalls of Facebook Marketplace: Poor Quality or Dangerous Products

Stolen and fake goods and any products that do not meet the Trading Standards requirements can often be sold on Facebook Marketplace and other online marketplaces too. It is particularly important to consider any potential health or safety problems, such as a fire risk, that can be associated with buying items with poor manufacturing quality. The Trading Standards website is a good place to read and obtain more information about consumer rights and this official site has a postcode business checker feature too.  (9) (10)

We approached Facebook Marketplace for their comments about how they are tackling swindling merchants and cheating traders posing as honest citizens. At the time of the publication of this article we have not received a response. See our next article for more details of how New Security Systems to Prevent Scams and Fraud on Facebook Marketplace are Essential

 

(1) ‘Seven Facebook marketplace scams to watch out for’ Josh Kirby, Chief Writer, The Times Money Mentor, 12 January 2024 ‘Seven Facebook marketplace scams to watch out for’ Josh Kirby, The Times Money Mentor

(2) ‘Discover, buy and sell goods with Facebook Marketplace’ Facebook Marketplace official website, 23 February 2024 ‘Discover, buy and sell goods with Facebook Marketplace’ Facebook Marketplace

(3) ‘Buy and sell responsibly on Facebook Marketplace’ Facebook Help Centre, 23 February 2024 ‘Buy and sell responsibly on Facebook Marketplace’ Facebook Help Centre

(4) ‘Sexual offences in England and Wales overview: year ending March 2022’ Office for National Statistics, 23 March 2023 ‘Sexual offences in England and Wales overview: year ending March 2022’ Office for National Statistics

(5) ‘What are my rights if I buy and sell on Facebook Marketplace?’ Hannah Downes, Which? Online consumer magazine UK, 26 September 2023 ‘What are my rights if I buy and sell on Facebook Marketplace?’ Hannah Downes, Which?

(6) ‘Buy, sell or scrap a vehicle’ Gov. UK, UK Government official website, 19 February 2024 Buy, sell or scrap a vehicle’ Gov. UK

(7) ‘How to check your banknotes’ Bank of England, PDF online leaflet, 23 February 2024 ‘How to check your banknotes’ Bank of England

(8) ‘Landlord checks by RentProfile help prevent rental fraud’ HM Land Registry, 12 January 2017 ‘Landlord checks by RentProfile help prevent rental fraud’ HM Land Registry

(9) ‘Online and distance selling’ Gov.UK, Trading Standards UK Government advice, 23 February 2024 ‘Online and distance selling’ Gov.UK, Trading Standards UK Government advice

(10) ‘Looking for Consumer Help and Advice?’ Chartered Trading Standards Institute, 23 February 2024 ‘Looking for Consumer Help and Advice?’ Chartered Trading Standards Institute

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