Don’t Fall for These Online Marketplace Scams

Quick Answer

Scammers target buyers and sellers in online marketplaces and can steal your money, products and personal information. Learn about common scams to steer clear of and general tips that can help you avoid becoming a victim.

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Popular online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor's listings section can be great for buyers and sellers alike, but you want to watch out for scammers who are out to steal your money and personal information. The specific tactics and messaging can vary and evolve, but here are some common scams to be aware of next time you sell or buy something through an online marketplace.

Sellers Should Watch Out for These Scams

While selling old items online can be a great way to clear out your home and get extra cash, watch out for these three scams that target sellers.

Overpayment Scams

The overpayment scam has been around for a long time, and it still catches many people off guard. It happens when the buyer of an item you're selling "accidentally" sends you too much money and asks you to send back the difference. If you do, however, you'll be out the product you sold and the money you sent back because their payment will turn out to be a fraud and get rescinded.

Scammers might send you a check, money order or use a digital payment app for the overpayment scam. When you deposit the check or money order it initially looks like the amount is in your account, but then your bank discovers it's a fake and reverses the deposit. Similarly, funds sent to your payment app can be taken back, such as if the scammer used a stolen credit card linked to a payment app.

In a recent twist on the overpayment scam, some fraudsters will send you an email that's spoofed to look like it comes from a payment platform, such as PayPal or Zelle. The email "confirms" the overpayment and they follow up to ask you for a money bank. The scammer will also often ask you to pay in a way that isn't easily reversed, such as a wire transfer, gift cards or cryptocurrency.

Fraudulent Payment Scams

Similar to overpayment scams but without the overpayment, scammers might buy something from you using a fraudulent payment method—fake checks, money orders, stolen cards tied to a payment app, counterfeit cash, etc. Be especially cautious if you're shipping items or selling a high-value item that can easily be resold, such as in-demand electronics.

Google Voice Verification Code Scams

Rather than stealing your money, some scammers try to use you to further their nefarious plans. In one scam, the person may say they want to buy from you, but that they're worried about (ironically) scammers. They'll ask you to confirm your identity by having you repeat a verification code that's sent to your phone.

If you say you'll give them the code, they'll trigger the step that sends you the verification text message. In reality, they might be creating a Google Voice number in your name, and they need the verification code to complete the process. They can then use the Google Voice account to scam others.

Scammers who want to break into your accounts could also use a similar approach to get the multifactor authentication code that's keeping your account safe.

Buyers Also Need to Beware

Buying directly from others online can help you save money or get your hands on hard-to-find products, but you also need to be wary.

Counterfeit, Defective and Fake Products

Sellers might try to get rid of broken or counterfeit products using online marketplaces, or list items that are completely fake. A surprisingly low price is often a red flag, and you could try a Google reverse image search of the photos to find out if other websites or listings have the same images. The best protection is still to avoid buying items that will be shipped to you unless the website offers some sort of guarantee.

Advanced Payment Scams

Sellers might ask you to pay an initial deposit for them to hold an item you want to buy, particularly if you're buying an expensive or in-demand product. While it might seem like a small cost compared to the full purchase price, the scammer can take your payment and simply stop responding to your messages.

Rental Property Scams

Rental property scams can be particularly cruel because they can cost you a lot of money and leave you stranded. These start when a scammer lists a rental property, sometimes at a very attractive price, that they don't own or manage. Scammers will sometimes even replicate current listings but add their contact information, or create new listings using pictures from other online sources.

In some cases, it'll be a bait-and-switch and they have a real property that they want you to rent instead. However, the scam also targets people who are moving to an area and can't visit the property in person. Or, the scammer might tell you they can't offer a tour because they're out of town.

They then try to convince you to pay for a background or credit check or ask you to send a security deposit and initial rent payment. But you'll be out of luck if you send a payment, as you'll arrive at the property to find it was never actually for rent and that someone else lives there already.

How to Avoid Online Marketplace Scams

A sharp eye and a few protective measures can help you avoid many common scams. Here are a few tips to remember the next time you're buying or selling something online.

  • Watch out for brand-new accounts. You might be able to check the age of the other person's account and their account history. Look out for newly created accounts, but also don't take age as a sign that everything is okay. Some scammers take over other people's accounts to appear less suspicious.
  • Keep the conversation on the platform. Scammers might try to quickly switch to texting, a messenger app or email to avoid detection or get your contact information. Staying on the platform could be a safer option and keeps your info private.
  • Use a payment platform or marketplace that offers guarantees. Several online marketplaces and peer-to-peer payment platforms offer purchase protections that can reimburse you for fraudulent purchases. Using these can be important, but be sure you understand what types of transactions they won't cover.
  • Meet in a secure place. Meet in a safe place for in-person exchanges, such as a bank lobby or the parking lot of a local police station. If the other person refuses, the safest option is to walk away from the deal.
  • Use an escrow service for high-priced items. An escrow service acts as an intermediary and holds the funds until both parties are happy. Escrow accounts are common during home purchases, and it might be worth using one if you're buying or selling a luxury product or vehicle. But be cautious of using an escrow service that the other person recommends, as that could also be part of a scam.

Monitor Your Identity

Hopefully, you'll spot red flags and use platforms with guarantees that can help keep you, your money and your personal information safe. But mistakes happen, and fraudsters often come up with cunning new ways to trick people. If you want extra protection, identity theft monitoring can help you if your information is leaked online or if someone opens a new credit account in your name. The Experian IdentityWorks℠ Premium and Family plans also come with three-bureau credit monitoring and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.

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