If you use Facebook Marketplace, don’t fall for this kind of scam – "facebook" – Google News

There are lots of ways to buy stuff online.

One of the biggest shopping destinations is Facebook Marketplace, where you can find just about anything for sale.

Some 1.228 billion online shoppers buy something on Marketplace each month, according to March 2024 data from a Capitol One Shopping.

But data on how many users are scammed, or are almost scammed, during an attempted purchase is harder to come by.

Understandably, Facebook’s parent company Meta doesn’t want to publicize those numbers.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said 44% of social media scams reported in 2023 were related to online shopping.

“Most of these reports come from people who never received the items they ordered after responding to an ad on Facebook or Instagram,” the agency said.

Instagram is also owned by Meta.

Unfortunately for shoppers, there’s often little the social media giant can or will do to help after someone loses money in a scam that started on its platform.

Take Warren Fitzpatrick’s recent experience as an example.

After he broke his camera, a Canon G7X Mark II, he turned to Facebook Marketplace to find an exact replacement.

In late March, a Connecticut-based seller who we’re not naming here because it was probably a fake identity, listed the camera for $320 including shipping,

They discussed the price and how the payments would be made. Half upfront and half upon delivery, the seller said. The seller seemed legit, said Fitzpatrick, who lives in Washington Township in Morris County.

Fitzpatrick suggested using PayPal, but the seller complained it takes 21 days for him to get paid from that online payment service, so instead, the seller suggested Meta Pay, copies of messages of the conversations show.

Meta Pay allows users to store credit cards or PayPal information, and then they can add a PIN or enable fingerprint or face ID for security.

It says it uses “advanced technology” to keep the payments safe.

“Meta Pay didn’t work,” Fitzpatrick said, noting in retrospect that the seller probably knew it wouldn’t work. “I downloaded and tried CashApp. But that didn’t work either.”

Next, the seller suggested Chime, another online payment system, and he gave Fitzpatrick what he said was his girlfriend’s account as the payment destination.

Fitzpatrick downloaded the app, and the $160 payment successfully went through.

But once the payment was completed, the seller disappeared. The Facebook profile, the Marketplace listing, all of it. Gone. Just like Fitzpatrick’s money.

He said he immediately reported it to Chime.

“The first person said I would be reimbursed and transferred me to the department who would do that. He lied,” he said. “The last person I spoke to was supposedly an escalation manager. While he understood exactly what was going on, all he could do is cite/repeat their policy, more-or-less admitting that it enables fraud.”

He also reported it to Facebook, which said it could not help because the money was moved outside of its systems.

Facebook and Meta didn’t respond to our inquiries about Fitzpatrick’s experience, but Chime said it takes matters like this “very seriously.”

It would not discuss the case, citing user privacy, but said “we stand by our decision based on our investigation.”

“Unfortunately, fraud occurrences like this are widespread in the industry,” a spokesperson said, adding that like other person-to-person money transfer services, “it’s not possible to cancel a payment after it has willingly been initiated by the member.”

It’s called a “victim-assisted crime” because the target of the fraud participated in the money transfer. Even though they were tricked, the payment institutions often wash their hands of it.

That’s how money transfer services, whether Zelle, Venmo, CashApp and yes, Chime and others, claim they are not responsible for fraud losses.

Fitzpatrick concedes he should have noticed some red flags, but he also argues that Facebook Marketplace could do more to protect consumers from shady and outright fraudulent listings on its site.

As an example, he cited another search for the same camera yielding a bunch of results.

“But I don’t think any of those cameras exist,” he said. “They’re all scams, I believe.”

We can’t confirm that, but it’s understandable that he would feel that way.

Maybe they are real posts. Maybe they’re not. And maybe some are even posted under another name by the same person who scammed Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick also argues he gave the account information for the shady seller to Facebook and Chime so they could pursue it.

“They seem fine with their platforms being used for scams by criminals,” he said.

The companies would deny that, but it’s true that it often feels like honest consumers are up against not only fraudsters, but against huge companies. They may take steps to police transactions behind the scenes — they don’t like to reveal their proprietary methods, they say — but it sure often feels that consumers are helpless after they’re scammed.

Fitzpatrick said while he didn’t expect to get his money back, he wanted to warn others.

“(The seller) seemed perfectly normal — and honest — like a legitimate person looking to sell a camera he no longer needed. Nice picture on Facebook with his kids. Good family man,” he said. “Be aware. Be suspicious.”

When it comes to online purchases, especially those with unfamiliar parties on social media, heed that advice. If a seller suggests alternate payment methods that aren’t part of a shopping website’s system, forget it. Shop elsewhere.

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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on X at @KPMueller.

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