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Four common Facebook Marketplace scams and how to avoid them

A woman photographing an item of clothing in her wardrobe to be sold online

With the rising cost of living putting pressure on household budgets, many Australians are looking for ways to earn a little bit of extra cash. As a result, online platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree have become more popular as people turn their unwanted items into cash.

Although both websites are great for buying and selling second hand items, they’re also prime targets for cybercriminals who are targeting these platforms with a range of scams that can leave unwary buyers and sellers out of pocket.

The techniques scammers use on Facebook Marketplace and similar platforms are many, varied and ever changing. They can be hard to spot and difficult to keep on top of, but here are four common scamming techniques to keep in mind when buying or selling anything online.

“My friend doesn’t use Facebook”

If you are selling an item, keep this scam front of mind. It involves someone contacting you on behalf of their friend or relative, and they will tell you that the person is interested in your item, but as they don’t use Facebook you will need to contact them using a different method. You will then usually be given an email address or mobile number to text. Once the scammer has your email or phone number, they can use it to send you other scams or even malware that strips data from your computer or mobile device.

Another version of this scam involves the scammer saying they want to purchase your item but can’t meet you in person. Instead, they will want to send a friend or relative to collect it and will ask you for your email or mobile number to pass on to the third party.

When it comes to communicating with potential buyers, be wary of sending anyone your contact details. It’s safer to keep all communications within the messaging service of the trading platform.

Overpayment scam

With this scam, the person purchasing your item will tell you that they’ve sent you the payment but have accidently overpaid you and want the difference back. They may even send you a screenshot of the transaction receipt as proof, but in fact the transaction and the receipt are fake, and you haven’t been paid anything.

Before transferring any money for an alleged overpayment refund, always check your own transaction records via your banking app or internet banking. Keep in mind, that scammers often use a sense of urgency to get people to do as they ask. If they try and hurry you to make a payment, you shouldn’t do it - unless you see the money in your account, of course.

Broken item

In this type of scam, a seller advertises an electronic device that looks to be in good condition in the photograph, and the listing may say it’s barely used. You purchase the item but when you get it home and try to use it, it doesn’t work and the seller no longer responds to your messages, calls or emails.

It is always best to inspect and test any electronic products you’re purchasing from an online marketplace before handing over any payment. Remember that purchases from these types of platforms are not covered by the same consumer protections you may be used to.

PayID

This type of scam has become more common as the use of PayID has grown. In case you’re not sure of what it is; PayID is a payment method that uses a mobile number, email address or ABN linked to a bank account to send and receive money. You no longer need to use give people your BSB or account number.

For this scam, the buyer will respond to your listing with an offer to pay for the item you’re selling using PayID. The scammer then tricks you into paying a fee to “activate” or “upgrade” your PayID account, by sending you a fake email or text message informing you there has been a problem with the transaction.

Although PayID is a safe method of payment, you should be wary of requests for additional payments – remember, you never have to send money to receive a payment via PayID. If you have doubts about a request you’ve received, always speak to your bank.

How to identify scams

We’ve looked at four of the common scams occurring on online marketplaces but as we said at the beginning, scammer’s techniques are always changing, and you may be wondering how you can help protect yourself. Well, here are five red flags that may indicate you are being targeted by a scam.

  • The buyer or seller has a brand-new profile or is missing a profile photo.
  • The price of an ordinarily expensive item seems too good to be true.
  • The buyer wants to pay you with a gift card.
  • The buyer or seller wants the payment, the item or your details quickly and there is an urgency to their communications.
  • The buyer or seller wants to communicate with you off the platform.

For more information on identifying scams, visit our Security and Scams page.

Tips to avoid getting scammed

Scammers are convincing and good at what they do, and there are many different ways that you can be scammed out of your hard-earned cash. To protect yourself from getting scammed when using Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or other online marketplace sites keep these tips in mind:

  • Always research potential buyers by checking their profile and their location. If they’re overseas or in a different state it’s unlikely they’ll be collecting your item from you.
  • Pay attention to the reviews a seller has and see what other buyers have said about them.
  • Don’t click on any links sent to you via email or text message or download anything to your computer.
  • Never hand over money until you see the item that’s being sold and are confident it’s legitimate and in working order.
  • Use payment options that provide protections, such as PayPal.
  • If the price seems too good to be true, ask to see multiple photos of the item, a live video or even an original sales receipt before agreeing to buy.

It’s not just scam activity you should think about when buying or selling online. You should also consider the risks of meeting a buyer at your home address. If you’re not comfortable with someone you don’t know visiting your home, then arrange to meet them in a public space. Think a local shopping centre or its car park, where there will likely be people around and security cameras.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, you should notify us immediately. To report fraud or a scam, please contact us by calling 13 25 77.

You should also report scams to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) via the Scamwatch website, where you can also find more advice on how to avoid scams and what to do if you are a scam victim.

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