Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to try and trick us and steal our money. In our ongoing CyberGuy series, “Confessions from a scam victim,” today we are featuring Diane from Logansport, Indiana.
She’s smart and avoids falling prey to these scammers. Yet, even smart people can be duped. She reached out to us to share her experience with a prevalent scam on Facebook Marketplace.
There are many lessons we can all learn from her story. Here’s what she has to say.
“Often in FB Marketplace, particularly if the item has some real value – you will get at least 1 and sometimes several inquiries about your item almost immediately.
None of the inquiries have any friends – all just joined FB. They use all sorts of photos now – ‘Family’ – ‘pretty girl’ – ‘older lady’ – ‘Mom & child’ each that ‘too good of a photograph’ to be like the rest of us and our photos. There is usually only 1 photo on their profile page.
I almost fell for it again. I answered them but refused to give me my phone number or call the number they gave me.
Nothing anywhere on their profile page reflected the local area – not even the phone number. So, I questioned them and they couldn’t answer the local info questions.” – Diane, Logansport, Indiana
Diane’s account serves as a cautionary tale for those of us who use Facebook Marketplace. Sadly, this is certainly not the first time we’re seeing a Facebook Marketplace scam trying to trick people, and it won’t be the last.
So, how do these scammers operate, and why is Facebook Marketplace such a hot spot for them?
It’s because buyers and sellers seldom know one another. The Facebook Marketplace verification system for local buyers and sellers is limited. Essentially, you are on your own with little protection both on and off the platform.
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How does this Facebook Marketplace scam play out
Step 1 – Scammers pose as friendly people
A seller posts the item they want to sell onto Facebook Marketplace and then immediately gets responses from a few individuals posing as friendly people who are local to your area.
As Diane points out, they will make themselves look friendly by having a nice picture as their profile (i.e., a sweet elderly woman, a mother and a child, etc.) so that sellers would be more willing to put their trust in them right off the bat.
Step 2 – Scammers ask to confirm your identity
Once a scammer says they want to buy your item, they will first ask for your phone number and ask you to confirm your identity. Once you give them your phone number, they will ask you to text a code to them that pops up on your cellphone they provide.
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Step 3 – Scammers try to get you to send them a verification code
The verification code that the scammer asks you to text back to them could be used for accessing your online accounts, such as your email, social media or banking. Or it could be a two-factor authentication code that’ll let the scammer take over one of your accounts. Or it could also be the authorization code to set up a Google Voice number, which the scammer can use to run even more scams. The worst part is that now their number will be linked to your phone, not theirs.
By texting the code back to them, you are giving them the code that they need to log in to your accounts. Once they have access to your accounts, they can steal your personal information, money or identity.
You should never share any verification codes with anyone who contacts you on Facebook Marketplace. If you receive a text message with a verification code that you did not request, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, report the message as spam and block the sender.
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What are some red flags you should look out for?
The buyer that Diane encountered displayed plenty of red flags, and luckily she did not go through with the entire devious plot that the scammer had in store.
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Red flag #1 – Has few friends, pictures, or posts
A big red flag proving that someone could be a scammer is if they don’t have many friends, pictures, or posts on their profile page.
You should also check to see if this person has recently joined Facebook or if they’ve been on the platform for a while.
The longer the profile has been up and the more posts the person has, the more likely it is to be a real person and not a scammer. You may hopefully be able to get a sense of who this person is from their profile before you agree to sell anything to them.
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Red flag #2 – Poses as someone local to your area
Many people will sell locally on Facebook Marketplace for the convenience of not having to pay shipping fees and for the convenience and immediate availability of items. Just like what happened with Diane, there will be scammers out there who try to pose as someone local to your neighborhood when they’re not.
Stick to Facebook when communicating with them. I recommend that you do not give out your phone number to anyone. If you already did give out your phone number, then I recommend you look up the area code of the phone number the person provided to you to see if it’s anywhere near where you live.
And if you’re still feeling skeptical, you can even try asking them a few questions about your area to see if they know the correct answers. They shouldn’t have issues answering a few simple questions if they’re local.
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Red flag #3 – Grammar and spelling mistakes
If they make grammar and spelling mistakes, that’s another red flag that it’s probably a scam artist whose first language is not English. Trust your gut when it comes to this. If any part of you doesn’t trust this person, don’t go through with the sale and stop communicating with them.
Red flag #4 – Urging or pressuring you
If the person is urging or pressuring you to share personal information with them immediately and come off as aggressive in any way, then it’s likely to be a scammer.
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Red flag #5 – Asks to move the conversation from Facebook
You should also be wary of anyone who asks you to move the conversation from Marketplace to text messaging, phone or another platform. You should keep your discussions about any items you’re selling on Facebook Marketplace strictly on Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Red flag #6 – Asks for personal information
If someone asks for your phone number, email address or any other personal information right off the bat, that is a red flag. Avoid handing any of this information over to someone with whom you are communicating with on Facebook Marketplace.
Red flag #7 – Asks to pay with a gift card
If someone asks to pay for an item with a gift card, it’s likely a scam. Gift cards are not a secure or traceable form of payment. Also, the scammer may be trying to use a fake gift card to pay you. They may also try to trick you by giving you a gift card that has already been used or has no balance.
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How to avoid becoming a victim of a Facebook Marketplace scam
Meet up in a safe public place
When it comes to getting your item to the potential buyer, see if you can meet up in a neutral, public place such as a police department parking lot. It will also help you avoid shipping charges and a scammer who might be trying to use a fake shipping address.
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Don’t click any suspicious links, attachments, or images
If you receive a message from someone who you think may be a potential buyer, do not click on any of the links, attachments or images within the message as it could expose you to a phishing scam. These links, attachments or images may contain malware that can infect your device or direct you to a phony website that looks exactly like the real one but is designed to steal your personal information.
Have good antivirus software on all your devices:
Keeping hackers out of your devices can often be prevented when you have good antivirus protection installed on all your devices. Having antivirus software on your devices will help make sure you are stopped from clicking on any known malicious links, attachments or images that may install malware on your devices, allowing hackers to gain access to your personal information.
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Use identity theft protection
Identity theft protection companies can monitor personal information like your home title, Social Security Number (SSN), phone number and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals.
One of the best parts of using some services is that they might include identity theft insurance of up to $1 million to cover losses and legal fees and a white-glove fraud resolution team where a U.S.-based case manager helps you recover any losses.
See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.
Report Marketplace scams to Facebook
Facebook has a Help Center page dedicated to recognizing scams on Facebook Marketplace. The page provides information on what scams are, how to recognize them and what to do if you encounter one.
You can also report any suspicious activity or messages to Facebook by clicking the three dots icon in the top right corner of the message and selecting “Report” or “Something’s Wrong.” This will help Facebook take action against scammers.
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Kurt’s key takeaways
Scams like this can often happen to those eager to sell their products fast. It’s understandable to want to get rid of your item quickly. Don’t be so quick to trust the first person who wants to buy your item. Listen to your instincts, be meticulous about who you sell to and keep your personal information as private as you can.
Are there any other Facebook Marketplace scams you’ve encountered or have heard about that you think we should know about? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.
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