How to spot red flags for this latest Facebook Marketplace scam


We recently received this message from one of our readers, Mike D. of Conover, North Carolina, about some Facebook Marketplace scams he says he’s encountered and wants to let others know about them. Here’s what he has to say. 

“Hey Kurt: 

I have busted a few FB Marketplace scams over the last few years. We were looking for a boat a few years ago. We did finally buy one, but before we did, I ran across a very nice pontoon boat that was way underpriced. 

The “lady’s” story was that her husband had died and she was moving to another state to live with her in-laws or parents. So when I contacted her I received an email saying that I would get an email for payment from Ebay because she had already moved. 

Of course, red flags went up. But then after researching, apparently Ebay will do certain fulfillment exercises. When I got the email, of course, they wanted payment via eBay gift card, Walmart gift card, etc. The 2nd clincher was that I found the same boat with the same story in Hickory, NC, Raleigh NC, and somewhere in SC. Hmmm … I think they are counting that most people won’t look more than 50 miles away. 

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Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace on an iPad (Cyberguy.com)

Since then I’ve caught a few people doing this with boats, jeeps, p/u trucks, etc. Do an image search and when you see the same image come up in different cities, sometimes multiple states, you have a scammer. I report them and sometimes I’ll even engage them to tell them what lowlifes they are.”  — Mike D., Conover, NC 

We appreciate Mike telling us about these red flags. Since so many scams happen on Facebook Marketplace, it’s always a good idea to keep a watchful eye out and report any post that looks suspicious, even if you’re not dealing with the person directly. Here are some red flags to watch out for. 

Red flags to watch out for on Facebook Marketplace 

1) Check the person’s Facebook profile 

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. 

Additionally, look for any unusual or inconsistent information in their profile, such as conflicting details about their location or personal background. Scammers may try to deceive by providing inconsistent information. Paying attention to these details can help you make a more informed decision before engaging in any transactions with them. You should pretty much be able to get a sense of who this person is from their profile before you agree to sell or buy anything from them. 

2) Asked to pay in the form of a gift card 

As you can see from Mike’s message above, a common trick that scammers might try to use on Facebook Marketplace is asking people to pay in the form of a gift card. This is a classic method that scammers use all the time, even outside of Facebook Marketplace. 

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The reason they want people to pay with gift cards is that gift cards are not traceable. If you pay someone in the form of a gift card and then later find out it’s a scam, it is nearly impossible for a bank or credit card company to help you get that money back. 

At least with a debit or credit card, the bank or credit card company can trace where that fraudulent payment was made and help reimburse you for the money. The same cannot be done with a gift card. 

Facebook Marketplace on a laptop

 Facebook marketplace (Cyberguy.com)

It’s basically like giving free money to a complete stranger. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer. Now, besides paying in the form of gift cards, these are some other red flags you can watch out for on Facebook Marketplace. 

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3) Multiple posts of the same item 

This is another major red flag. A scammer will often get his hands on one item and try to place numerous ads about it in different parts of the country. This has been common with fake rental ads for apartments and homes. 

Why do scammers often get away with using multiple posts of the same item? 

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Because many people have a distance limit for how far they’re willing to shop around for an item. Many won’t think to check if the same item is for sale in another part of the country. Try broadening your search when you find an item you want to buy and see if you notice any repeats of the same item. If you’re seeing the same story in another location, then the item for sale is likely a scam, and you should report it to Facebook. 

4) Some of the manipulative tactics scammers use 

Gaining people’s sympathy and trust: Oftentimes, scammers will try to disguise themselves as innocent and even helpless people to gain sympathy and trust. They might have their profile pictures be of an elderly woman or a mother with a child. In Mike’s case, they may even throw in a sob story, like “My husband died, and now I have to sell this item.” 

Evoking trust and lowering suspicion: By portraying themselves as innocent and vulnerable individuals, scammers aim to disarm you emotionally. When someone appears to be in distress or facing a challenging situation, our natural inclination is to help and support them. This sympathetic response can lower your guard and make you more susceptible to the scammer’s ploy. 

Shoes on phone

Try using both Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp to see which gives you the best selling experience or try another site.  (CyberGuy.com)

Creating a sense of urgency: Sob stories involving tragedy or hardship often come with a sense of urgency. The scammer might claim he needs to sell the item quickly due to financial difficulties or impending relocation. This urgency can prompt you to make rushed decisions without properly verifying the authenticity of the situation or the legitimacy of the offer. 

Obtaining personal information: Appearing sympathetic and trustworthy is an effective way for scammers to coax you into revealing personal information. The more emotionally invested you become in helping the scammer, the more likely you are to share sensitive details that can later be used for identity theft or other fraudulent purposes. 

Guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation: Some scammers go beyond just seeking sympathy; they resort to guilt-tripping and emotional manipulation to extract money or favors from their victims. They may guilt-trip you into feeling responsible for their predicament or persuade them that their assistance will bring significant positive change to their lives. 

Avoiding suspicion and consequences: By disguising themselves as seemingly innocent individuals facing hardship, scammers hope to evade suspicion and reduce the likelihood of facing legal consequences for their fraudulent activities. Law enforcement and victims alike might be less inclined to suspect wrongdoing when presented with a heartrending story. 

Of course, in the end, there is always the possibility that the person selling the item has gone through a real tragedy; however, you should trust your gut and just be careful that they’re not trying to trick you into feeling sorry for them. 

Staying safe on Facebook Marketplace: tips for buyers and sellers 

Avoid sharing personal information  

You should keep your discussions about any items you’re selling or buying on Facebook Marketplace strictly on Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Avoid handing over your phone number, email address or any other personal information to a person you’re conversing with. 

Meet in public places 

HOW SCAMMERS ARE SELLING COUNTERFEIT STAMPS ON FACEBOOK ADS

When it comes to getting your item to the potential buyer or receiving an item from a potential seller, see if you can meet up in a neutral, public place so that you can avoid any potential risks associated with meeting strangers in unfamiliar or private locations. Public places such as coffee shops, shopping centers, or community centers are ideal choices for these transactions because they provide a safe and visible environment. 

Secure a reputable shipping service or delivery 

If meeting in person is not feasible, consider using a reputable shipping or delivery service that offers tracking and insurance options for added security. Always verify the details of the transaction, such as the item’s condition, price and any agreed-upon terms before finalizing the deal.  

Woman is frustrated

Frustrated woman on her laptop (Cyberguy.com)

Trust your instincts 

Additionally, trust your instincts. If something feels suspicious or uncomfortable, it’s best to reconsider the transaction or consult with a friend or family member before proceeding. 

FOR MORE OF MY SCAM & SECURITY ALERTS, SUBSCRIBE TO MY FREE CYBERGUY REPORT NEWSLETTER BY HEADING TO CYBERGUY.COM/NEWSLETTER 

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. 

Kurt’s key takeaways 

Facebook Marketplace is known to have a big problem with scammers, and although it’s still a great and convenient tool to use for buying and selling items, just keep your wits about yourself and don’t be so quick to trust people. 

Remember, you will likely be encountering people you’ve never met before, so remember to read everything carefully and never share any personal information that isn’t necessary to the sale. 

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Have you seen any suspicious Facebook Marketplace ads before now? Have you ever been scammed online? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact 

For more of my security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter 

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