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Every week, join Sydney Waters as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Facebook Marketplace Scams

Side shot of a range of used modern vehicles, at a public car dealership
deepblue4you/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Side shot of a range of used modern vehicles, at a public car dealership

Facebook Marketplace can be a great resource for buying and selling, especially within your local community. However, scams are nothing new on this platform, since it can be difficult to vet sellers and buyers. Last year, 18.7% of people who reported to BBB that they lost money in a scam said it took place on social media.

Recently, BBB has received reports of a specific Facebook Marketplace scam: Consumers and businesses involved in used car sales have received hundreds of automated scam messages from alleged potential buyers.

The “buyer” will express interest in the sale and ask the seller to provide their phone number so they can send a code to verify the seller is “real.” In reality, this is likely a way to get the seller’s phone number to create a fraudulent Google Voice account, which the scammer will use for future scams. It may also be an attempt to hack into the seller’s Facebook account or other accounts.

Websites like Facebook have protections in place for your personal and financial information, so scammers sometimes try to work around that by asking you to leave the platform or getting you to share private details like your phone number. Remember not to share personal information with strangers online, even for a Marketplace sale.

It's good to learn some of the signs of other common Facebook Marketplace scams, too – overpayment for an item, requests for advance payment, communicating outside of Facebook and refusing to let buyers see an item before purchase are all potential red flags.

How to avoid scams on Facebook Marketplace:

Limit sharing personal information online. This age-old tip for internet safety is classic for a reason – it's good advice to stay safe online, and it applies to Facebook Marketplace, too. Don’t share details like your phone number or location with strangers.

Be careful when selling or buying big-ticket items. These more expensive sales, such as the used car sales may be more likely to attract scammers.

Don’t share confirmation codes with anyone. Six-digit codes are usually intended to help you reset a password or access an account, and they are meant for your eyes only. A stranger should never ask you for a six-digit code. If a buyer or seller on Facebook Marketplace asks to send you one, cut contact with them.

If buying, always meet the seller and see the item for sale before purchasing. This will help you avoid most scams on Facebook Marketplace. If a seller refuses to let you see the item in advance, there’s a chance it may not exist or may be defective in some way.

Watch out for overpayment. Some scammers will overpay for an item using a fraudulent payment method to try to get sellers to send them money back. If someone overpays for an item, decline the charge and ask them to send the correct amount.

Check the buyer or seller’s profile. Some people create fake profiles to run scams, then disappear with the money after the sale. A brand-new profile may be a red flag.

Report scams to Facebook. You can report Facebook Marketplace sellers and buyers to Facebook if you suspect they are involved in a scam.

Sydney Waters is the new Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau and responsible for outreach efforts in Southern Illinois and Eastern and Southwest Missouri.