Facebook Marketplace, with its 1 billion global users, may seem completely safe because it is so popular and backed by a powerful tech company.
Yet, the Marketplace is ripe with scams of all kinds that target people and brands wherever they may be.
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What is Facebook Marketplace?
Facebook (now Meta) is a social hub. You can do so much there: connect with friends, find like-minded people, share content, view photos, and more.
It is also where you can buy and sell: Facebook Marketplace was built for this purpose. This eCommerce platform keeps on evolving. Now retailers can add inventory to Marketplace through platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, and others.
With all its legitimate business activity, Marketplace turned out to be a fertile ground for scammers; Dishonest sellers take advantage of the platform by listing their products and using Facebook advertising to promote their goods.
Many of the scams appear to be part of criminal operations designed to abuse social media marketplaces.
There are many types of scams on Facebook. Here are a few:
- Counterfeit products: Sellers offer branded items that turn out to be fake.
- You’ve won scams: You receive a message claiming that you have won something. It then asks for your personal information (such as bank details) or fees so you can get your win.
- Fake photos scam: Getting fake photos, often of a celebrity, promising you can win money or luxury items that you never get.
(As we researched this article, Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest has filed a lawsuit against Facebook for failing to take action on scam ads featuring his image).
- Friends or family emergencies: Receiving a plea for financial help by a friend or family member whose Facebook Messenger has been hacked. Wanting to help, you send the money and it goes straight to the scammer.
The list is by no means complete, and sophisticated scammers constantly find new ways to profit.
Here we will look at how popular scams work, involving counterfeit goods and malicious ads.
You go online to find an item in high demand or hard to find. You see a seller who offers the item for immediate shipping and for a great price.
Or you spot an ad for a sold-out item below its retail price. Chances are the offer is a scam, likely involving counterfeit goods.
A counterfeit good is a fake, a knockoff or a replica of another company’s product. Counterfeit items usually copy a name, logo, or distinctive features attempting to imitate the genuine product.
Brands usually notice that as the popularity of their products grows, so does the counterfeit activity.
Fraudulent resellers look at items that have a high search volume and therefore generate more traffic and sales, especially products sold out on Amazon or one of the other big marketplaces.
Online fake stores
A popular scam involves an ad on Facebook, a Shopify store offering the goods, and a price too good to be true.
The items are probably fake, but it all looks legitimate. In the past, when e-commerce stores offered fakes, they usually had poor features and bad photos that were easy to spot.
Newer platforms, such as the Shopify platform, provide a simple and effective way to set up a store that has a beautiful design and great features. Legitimate sellers set up shops, but so do scammers who create fraudulent stores.
It is not that Shopify specifically attracts scammers but that its effectiveness makes it rampant with illegitimate resellers. Similarly, Wix is a usable platform to create e-commerce websites, both legitimate and fraudulent.
The website and stores set up by scammers can even be generated with a program. Illegitimate organizations can create multiple websites with similar or overlapping images, texts, and contact details.
When an illegitimate store is shut down, it can be recreated automatically on platforms such as Wix and Shopify. After it is up, it is ready to be loaded with illegitimate content from a template or even current content scraped from legitimate brands.
When images are copied from legitimate brands and sellers and used in ads, customers expect the quality they see. When they get poor quality imitations of no value, customers may leave negative reviews or turn to the authentic brand, which suffers revenue loss and damage to its reputation.
In 2020, for example, it was reported that the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) in the UK found that brands (including Clarks and Tommy Hilfiger) had been impersonated in sponsored social media posts.
The scammers used images by the genuine brand, but when the customer clicked on the provided links, they took him to a website that looked like the brand but is fraudulent.
The platforms do not allow for fake, false, misleading products or ads. When they are alerted regarding a store with illegal products or find one, they may attempt to take it down. But not always. The Time reported about complaints that are ignored or overruled in 2020.
Scammers are still able to offer counterfeits on sale, promote them on Facebook and social media, make profits for a certain amount of time, and then close shop and ad accounts and create new ones just to start a new cycle.
Facebook scam ads
Facebook ads have become an important tool for businesses trying to reach out to Facebook’s 2.9 billion monthly active users. The same is true for scammers.
Clicking on a scam ad by a malicious advertiser is usually the first step by the victim of a Facebook scam. After clicking, the buyer is usually routed to a scam website or store. The money is likely to flow outside of the U.S. and EU.
The scam sale cycle has become much more efficient due to ad targeting. Often, you find that the Facebook ads you see are tailored to your interests.
To target users, Facebook tracks behavior: who clicks a specific ad, who buys an item. The Facebook algorithm analyzes the data to automatically shows ads to relevant audiences.
It is a great system for the most part. Unfortunately, more and more Facebook scam ads leave buyers with counterfeit products, no product, and no refund.
Some scammers never fulfill the customer order. Instead, they sell an item but never send it. They make money off buyers who do not contest the charge or do not do it in time or may do so after the funds have been transferred.
If you try going after them, you will probably find they are already long gone. Moreover, they are likely running ads from outside the U.S.
This has damaging effects on authentic brands and other Facebook advertisers who have invested in promoting their products. No doubt it damages consumers.
What are the signs that this is a scam by the seller
As scammers become more sophisticated, it is more and more difficult to know what’s real and what’s fake. Here are some signs that indicate a scam:
- The seller avoids meeting you before the purchase, even when the sale is local.
- The seller does not let you see the item before you make the purchase.
- The seller asks that you pay with gift cards.
- The seller directs you to make the purchase away from Facebook.
- The seller gives suspicious explanations as to why the price is significantly lower.
- The seller is unwilling to use pay-and-ship on Facebook, although both seller and buyer are in the U.S. Instead, he asks you not to pay with Facebook checkout. In this case, the transaction will not be covered by Facebook’s Purchase Protection.
Wiser Market – Online brand protection like no other
Ads on Facebook and Instagram are often approved and run until they are detected and flagged.
Fake products are offered until they are detected or reported to the platform.
When Facebook delists an illegitimate sellers, they can simply open a new listing, website, or store. Constant proactive monitoring and takedown actions are critical.
Continuously monitoring and reporting counterfeits and brand abuse lie mainly with genuine brands. It is a heavy burden, especially given the sheer number of listings and sellers, and the number of online e-commerce channels.
Wiser Market anti-counterfeiting agency helps clients fight online sales of counterfeits. We use innovative technology and unique know-how to fight counterfeiters and protect your brand, your partners and consumers across online marketplaces, eCommerce platforms and social networks.
Wiser Market’s successful online brand protection strategy defends your brand’s intellectual property, revenue, and reputation, resulting in an over 90% success rate.
With Wiser Market, your brand will have a 360° protection suit, allowing you to grow your business.
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WiserTip: If a company’s website and Facebook page have no negative comments or reviews, it’s a red flag.
What can I do to avoid Facebook scam ads and fakes?
The best advice is to be alert. Here are some things to look for:
- Look at the price and remember, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a fake or scam.
- Check the contact details to see if they exist and the domain name to see if it makes sense. For example, if the name is senseless or just a random collection of numbers and letters, it’s probably not staying long.
- Read comments by other shoppers on the Facebook ad, search engines, and online pages.
- Check the Facebook page to see if it has been active for at least a few months with positive comments. Legitimate businesses have to start at some point too, so we do not advise against buying from new stores. Having said that, knowing the brand before making the purchase helps to mitigate the risks.
- Check the privacy page to see if the company name matches the website’s name. Scammers who repeatedly change the name of their shop or website often forget to update their privacy pages.
- Before making a purchase, research the vendor and their Commerce Profile.
- Reconsider buying from a vendor who requests too much personal information.
- Reconsider buying from an advertiser who uses low-quality images and does not provide product information.