Closeup of the Facebook Marketplace on a smartphone screen.
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Facebook Marketplace is useful for buying or selling used or unwanted items. But like any online marketplace, the service is rife with scammers who are looking to take advantage of both parties. Let’s learn how they work and how to recognize them.

The Shipping Insurance Scam

Facebook Marketplace is primarily a platform for local sales. Think of it as the classifieds section in a local newspaper, particularly when it comes to peer-to-peer sales. When selling a high-value item, it’s best to only entertain offers from local buyers who are willing to meet in person.

One reason for this is the increasing prevalence of the shipping insurance scam. Scammers will pose as legitimate buyers who will pay a lot of money (often quoting $100 or more) for shipping via a service like UPS. They will even go as far as sending you an invoice for the shipping, whether it’s a forged attachment or from a fake email address.

This scam revolves around an “insurance fee” that the buyer wants you to cover. This is often around $50, which may be an attractive price for you (the buyer) to swallow to sell a valuable item for your asking price. Once you’ve sent the money to cover the insurance fee, the scammer takes your money and moves on to the next mark.

While some legitimate buyers may indeed be happy to pay for an item to be shipped, the prevalence of this scam makes this a risky route to go down. At the very least you should know to cut all contact if you’re prompted for any sort of additional “insurance” charge.

Sellers Requesting Payment in Advance

Treating Facebook Marketplace like a classified listing can also prevent you from falling victim to the next scam. You should never pay for anything that you intend to collect in person without first seeing (and inspecting) that item. In the US, Facebook allows businesses to use Marketplace like an eCommerce website, but the same service is not extended to the general public.

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If a seller asks you to pay for an item in advance that you have not seen in person, walk away. You should remain suspicious even if the seller shows off the item on a video call since you cannot verify that the item is in your local area. If you’re interested in an item agree to meet the seller in a well-lit, public area and agree on a method of payment beforehand.

Young man gesturing with his fingers to request money.
Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock.com

If possible, agree on a cashless payment using a service like Facebook Pay, Venmo, or Cash App to avoid carrying large amounts of cash around with you. For peace of mind, take someone with you and never meet in a deserted location after dark.

RELATED: The 5 Best Payment and Money Transfer Apps

Sellers and Buyers Who Take the Transaction Elsewhere

One telltale sign of a scammer is a desire to take the transaction away from Facebook entirely and to another platform, like a chat app or email. One reason for this may be to remove any signs of a digital paper trail that you could use to prove that the seller scammed you. This provides the scammer with some protection from having their accounts shut down by Facebook since little to no evidence of a scam will exist on the service.

This could apply to buyers or sellers. Much of the time these scammers will pass on an email address (or simply put it in the listing). You can search the web for this address to see if it’s been flagged by anyone else for suspicious activity.

Fake House and Apartment Rental Listings

Facebook rental scams were given a new lease of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a time where many experienced lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, getting out and seeing a potential property in person wasn’t always possible. Even as restrictions around the world are relaxed, the problem persists and you should ideally avoid using Facebook to find property altogether.

Scammers will pose as property agents and landlords in a bid to snare unsuspecting tenants into sending over money. They will say almost anything to get you to cough up the money, and high-pressure selling techniques which claim that other renters are interested and that you need to act fast to secure a tenancy are common.

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While many scammers resort to posting images of properties they have found online that they have no connection to in the real world, some will go a step further. Some scams may be sophisticated enough to use houses that the scammer knows are empty. They may tell you to inspect the property in person (with or without them being present), but if you can’t get inside then you should know something is up.

The best way to avoid falling for this is to use verified real estate services to look for places to live. If you are tempted by Facebook, due diligence is required to ensure you aren’t being taken for a ride. Be wary of Facebook profiles that do not seem genuine. You can reverse image search profile pictures and verify contact information by making some calls.

If the agent or landlord claims to represent a company or property trust, contact them directly and verify their identity. Beware if you are asked to pay a deposit using services like PayPal, Venmo, Cash App, or another peer-to-peer service. And lastly, follow one of the golden rules of buying anything online: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Car Deposit and Vehicle Purchase Protection Scams

Buying a high-value item like a smartphone has some risk, but higher value items like cars carry even more risk on account of their high price tag. Beware of any sellers that ask you to pay a deposit to hold a car, even if they promise that the deposit is refundable. Even the sketchiest second-hand car dealership would allow you to inspect a car before handing over the cash.

Similarly, some scammers attempt to add credibility to their listings by claiming they will use real-world schemes like eBay Vehicle Purchase Protection, which covers a transaction for up to $100,000. This only applies to vehicles sold on eBay, so Facebook Marketplace (and similar services) do not apply.

Stolen or Faulty Goods, Especially Tech and Bikes

There’s no shortage of buyers looking for a deal on Facebook Marketplace, and many scammers see this as an opportunity. Smartphones and laptops are always in hot demand, but these are also some of the most frequently stolen goods.

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Take the iPhone for example. A stolen iPhone will likely be useless to both the seller and anyone they are selling to since Apple locks the hardware to a user account with Activation Lock. There are all sorts of things to check before buying a used iPhone. The same feature exists for MacBooks, and there’s a checklist you should run through before buying used Mac hardware too.

Activation Lock on iPhone
Apple

Many of the tips that would apply to an iPhone or MacBook also apply to Android smartphones and Windows laptops (outside of Apple-specific features, of course). This includes thoroughly testing the item before you buy it, which means meeting in a safe public space so you can inspect whatever it is you’re expected to buy.

A price that seems too good to be true (even if the seller is trying to make a quick sale for a seemingly legitimate reason) is also a red flag. If you are not able to see the item, lay your hands on it, verify that it’s not locked to another account, and ensure that it’s working as expected; you should walk away. Having more information about an item will also give you a better understanding of the value proposition.

Bikes are other high-value items that are frequently stolen. If you purchase a bike that is later recovered by its rightful owner, you will lose both the item and the money you paid. Ironically, Facebook is a great place for tracking down stolen bikes. Before you buy, have a look for any “stolen bikes” groups in your area to see if anyone has reported the item stolen.

RELATED: What To Do If Your Mac Gets Stolen

The Gift Card Scam

While some sellers may be open to swapping items, very few legitimate sellers will accept gift cards as payment. Gift cards are anonymous, so once you’ve handed them over there’s no record of the transaction as there is with virtually any other payment method. You may indeed be “buying” an item, but the fact that the seller doesn’t want any record of a transaction means that there is something fishy going on.

This is not to be confused with another Facebook scam which has users fill out a form with all of their personal information to receive a discount code or gift card to a well-known retailer.

Identity Fraud and Personal Information Harvesting

Scammers don’t just want your money, some will settle for information or services set up in your name instead. This could work both against a seller and a buyer, particularly when it comes to the “Google Voice” scam.

While discussing a transaction, the other party may request that you “verify” your identity with a code. They will ask for your phone number, which you send them, and then you’ll receive a code (in this example, from Google). The code is one used by Google to verify your identity when setting up Google Voice. Should you relay this code to the scammer, they can set up a Google Voice account using your phone number or log in to your own account.

The scammer now has a legitimate number they can use for nefarious purposes, and it’s linked to your real-world number (and identity). Some scammers will simply request all manner of personal information, including your date of birth and address to verify who you are. This information may be used to set up accounts in your name.

If you’re selling an item from home and a buyer has agreed to come around to inspect or potentially buy the item, you should resist handing out your full address. Instead, you can give the buyer a vague address (like your street, or a nearby landmark) then have them call you when they’re close to the exact location. This will dissuade many scammers from wasting your time in the first place.

Overpayment Refund Scams

Sellers beware of anyone offering to pay for an item before seeing it. In many ways, this is another version of the shipping insurance scam, and it works similarly. A buyer will pretend to be interested in an item to the extent that they will claim to have sent money to pay for it. They often accompany this claim with a faked screenshot showing the transaction.

The screenshot will clearly show that the buyer has overpaid for the item. They then ask you (the seller) to send back some of the money they have sent you when in reality no money has been transferred. This scam is used all over the internet, and is particularly common in tech support scams.

Plain Old Fake Goods

Fake goods usually aren’t too hard to spot in person. Even if an item looks genuine on closer inspection it’s often evident from the use of cheaper materials, minor imperfections, and inferior packaging. But online, scammers can use any image they like to advertise their goods.

There’s not a lot you can do beyond inspecting an item thoroughly before you buy it. Be aware that some scammers will try and swap out goods for an inferior version, or simply advertise the genuine item but supply you with a fake.

In particular beware of items like brand-name headphones like Beats and AirPods, clothing and shoes, fashion accessories like bags and purses, sunglasses, fragrances and makeup, jewelry and watches, and other small goods. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.


If you suspect something isn’t right about a listing you can always report the ad. To do this click on the item to display the full listing, then click or tap on the ellipsis “…” icon and choose “Report Listing” then provide a reason for your report.

Facebook Marketplace isn’t the only way the social media platform has been used to scam people. There are plenty of other Facebook scams you should be aware of.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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