Facebook is a great place to share photos, message friends, and receive updates from people you only spoke to once in high school. However, just like with popular social media apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and its local selling platform — Facebook Marketplace — are increasingly popular places to get scammed. You don't need to worry, though, as this guide will tell you all about Facebook and Facebook Marketplace scams — and how to avoid them.
The world's most popular social media app gives cybercriminals ample opportunities to reach out to targets directly, contributing to a landscape where 62% of Facebook users encounter scams on a weekly basis, with malicious activity ramping up in the holiday season. Falling for Facebook fraudsters isn't inevitable, though.
We outline some common Facebook and Facebook Marketplace scams to look out for in 2023, offering practical advice on how they can be avoided. Read on for insights and to learn from the first-hand experience of real-life victims, or jump to specific scams you're interested in.
- Facebook Fake Fundraisers
- Facebook Giveaway Scams
- Facebook Quiz Scams
- Facebook Clickbait Scams
- Facebook Scam Messages
Facebook Marketplace scams:
What are Facebook and Facebook Marketplace Scams?
Facebook scams refer to any type of fraudulent activity that takes place on the Meta-owned app, Facebook. With over a third of the global population (37%) owning a Facebook account, the platform has become a valuable tool for cyber opportunists looking to extort victims en masse. Since Facebook is primarily intended for personal use, scams on the app tend to monopolize on its main use cases like personality quizzes, brand giveaways, and charity fundraisers.
Facebook Marketplace scams, on the other hand, describe any scam leveraged on the site's local selling platform. Since Facebook Marketplace offers local users a space to buy and sell goods and services, rackets on the site commonly involve fake goods and payments – mirroring Amazon scams and the fraud found on other popular selling platforms like eBay.
Facebook Fake Fundraisers
Due to its booming userbase, Facebook can be an excellent way for users to raise awareness about legitimate charity campaigns. However, fraudulent users have been quick to prey on the generosity of users by targeting them with fake charity fundraisers – and they can be very hard to decipher from the real deal.
These bogus campaigns can take many forms, but they typically entail authentic-looking charities (see picture below) and a link to a website where the cause and payment information are outlined. Fake charity appeals also often request donations through fundraising pages like GoFundMe, or Kickstarter.
This type of fake campaign is typically posted and distributed through copycat accounts created by scammers that contain real user details and friend lists. Criminals also tend to request donations through third-party apps like Venmo or CashApp to avoid so it's harder for fraudulent activity to be traced.
How to avoid fake fundraisers on Facebook: Always do your due diligence before donating. If you haven't heard of a charity before, research them to make sure they're legit, and if you're unsure about a GoFundMe campaign, check if the organizer's account seems trustworthy. Finally, before you contribute towards a campaign, make sure they offer secure payment gateways like Adyen or PayPal.
Facebook Giveaway Scams
If you've ever stumbled across a Facebook post promising riches to the first users that like, comment, or share, you've probably encountered a giveaway scam.
This type of ruse, which is also common on apps like Instagram and TikTok, either masquerade as competitions or charitable payouts to those in need. They will use money or products like iPhones as the bait, before asking supposed “winners” to follow malicious links or share personal information to reclaim their prize.
These compromised credentials can then be used to extract victims from their money and gain access to personal accounts.
Nazmul Asif, the Co-founder of WordPress plugin RioVizual, tells us about a time he came across a bogus giveaway on Facebook. “The scam was advertised as a giveaway for a free iPhone. To enter the giveaway, you had to like and share the post and tag two friends in the comments” Asif explains.
Fortunately, Asif's alarm bells went off before he shared any personal information, but with fake giveaway ruses costing victims around $80 million each month across platforms, many users aren't so lucky.
How to avoid giveaway scams on Facebook: Fake giveaway scams can be tempting, if the profile behind the post is requesting personal information, we'd run for the hills. If the giveaway is being hosted by a company, cross-check to see if it's being advertised across platforms. And as a general rule of thumb, if it looks too good to be true — it probably is.
Suspicious Facebook Quizzes
Facebook quizzes are a fun way to find out which character of Friends, or seasonal Starbucks drink you'd be. However, unbeknownst to most users, they're also a great way to for scammers to collect your private security information.
By asking seemingly begin questions like “What's your mother's maiden name?” and “What was the name of your first school?” cybercriminals are able to gain the information they need to hack into your private accounts. From here, they can deploy malware, search for more personal data, or even use your account to carry out more social engineering.
And it's not only small fish behind these sketchy quizzes. Facebook personality quizzes were central to Cambridge Analytica's data harvesting and political microtargeting efforts in 2018. So even if you've always wanted to find which Taylor Swift album best fits your personality, it's always best to think twice before entering personal information on quizzes.
How not to fall victim to dodgy Facebook quizzes: If a Facebook quiz is asking you well-known security questions, don't give away any personal details and report the quiz and its creator to the platform. Only take quizzes from reliable pages too, to minimize your chances of getting hustled.
Facebook Clickbait Scams
Facebook and clickbait are no strangers. But while most clickbait on the platform leads to fairly innocuous articles or product pages, other has more malicious intent.
In a similar way to giveaway scams, clickbait scams rope users in with salacious content designed to evoke a strong emotional reaction, positive or negative – think shocking animal neglect campaigns or pictures of adorable babies. Once they've grabbed your attention, they try and funnel users to malicious websites, or ask them to hand over sensitive personal information.
How to avoid the bait on Facebook: Just like with fake giveaway scams and bogus charity appeals, always check the legitimacy of the source before clicking on any links. No trustworthy source will request sensitive information either so always be suspicious of unusual requests.
Facebook Scam Messages
Last but not least, we have Facebook's magnum opus scam – fraudulent impersonations. If you've ever been added by a copycat account, or bombarded with unusual messages from friends you haven't spoken to since 2009, you've been targeted by this ruse.
They take place when hackers take over or clone a legitimate Facebook connection, before sending out phishing messages to their list of contacts, similar to how many WhatsApp scams and even Google Chat scams operate. These messages are designed to entice users into a conversation or shock them with alarming information, with the ultimate goal being retrieving sensitive data.
Design expert and founder of brand-da.com Daria Udalova narrowly avoided falling prey to this scam when checking her Facebook messages. After Udalova received a message from a brand she recognized with a familiar “let's collaborate vibe”, that didn't initially raise any red flags.
But after following a link to an official form, and noticing it lacked the brand's official domain, she suspected something was up. “The link didn’t seem to belong to the brand's domain. That was a moment of Aha! Gotcha! for me. So I took a step back, didn't click, and reported it,” Udalova tells Tech.co.
Many tell-tail signs are harder to spot though, so here's how to avoid getting duped by scam Facebook messages.
How not to fall for scam messages on Facebook: If you get an unusual message from a Facebook friend, reach out to them in person or on an alternate platform to verify it's legit. If you suspect it's a bogus message, report the profile to Facebook immediately and notify the user if you haven't already.
Facebook Marketplace Phishing Scams
Phishing scams take place across all corners of the internet, and Facebook Marketplace is no exception. Due to the high success rate of phishing attacks and Facebook Marketplace's low barrier to entry, there are a number of different ways criminals are leveraging the platform.
One common phishing attack to be weary of is the “identity verification” scam. Sellers have been known to set up fake marketplace listings, before asking buyers to send over a Google verification code or sensitive information like contact numbers, social security numbers, or financial data to prove their authenticity. This information can then be used for fraudulent purposes.
Another common phishing attack is the “account suspension” scam. In this swindle, scammers pose as Facebook Marketplace support and message targets telling them they need to verify their account to prevent it from being suspended.
Nazum Asif, Co-founder of riovizual.com tells us about a time he encountered this scam. “I clicked on the link and was taken to a fake Facebook Marketplace login page. The login page looked real, but it was actually a phishing site. If I had entered my Facebook login credentials on the fake login page, the scammers would have stolen my account.”
How to stay safe from Facebook Marketplace phishing scams: Facebook users should always be on the lookout for unusual requests on the marketplace and should never share personal information or verification codes with anyone on the app. The platform's support team won't reach out to you on Messenger either, so if you think a request is bogus report the account immediately.
For more in-depth guidance, you can check out full guide on how to avoid phishing scams.
Facebook Marketplace Fake Listing Scams
Just like with any other major online marketplace, there's always a chance that purchases will fall through on Facebook Marketplace. Scam sellers create fake listings, that are almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing, before ghosting buyers after they send over the payment.
Theador Hughes, founder of the casino bonus code site CasinosCodes almost got caught out by this scam after seeing an ad for some affordable, high-end electronics listed on the site. “Seeing the attractive price and considering the credibility of Facebook Marketplace, I contacted them,” Hughes tells us.
However, after being sent a suspicious-looking PayPal request from an unofficial domain, alarm bells started sounding. Luckily, Hughes has a background in finance, but spotting red flags isn't always this easy.
Matthew Krebs from Creating Margins was recently scammed out of $1000, after placing a downpayment on a fake truck listing he found on Facebook Marketplace. Krebs has since filed a police report but has been unsuccessful in tracking down the scammer and getting his money back.
How to know if a product is the real deal on Facebook Marketplace: Facebook lists a passport, driver's license, and a state or government-issued ID as acceptable forms of seller identification on its Marketplace. If you're unsure whether a product is legit, you have the right to ask for identity verification. What's more, if a listing for a product is a lot cheaper than the norm, you should be especially cautious.
Facebook Marketplace Fake Payment Scams
It's not just sellers you should be aware of on Facebook Marketplace. Unfortunately for users looking to make a buck from unwanted products, fake payment scams are also rife on the platform.
In this Facebook Marketplace racket, buyers pay for products using fraudulent checks or payment methods. It's also common for scammers to use payment platforms that can easily refund or cancel payments once products are delivered. Whichever way these tricksters choose to ‘pay', it's always the sellers who end up losing out.
UK-based seller and founder of Chorlton Fireworks, Saj Munir, told us about a time he fell victim to a fake payment scam. After receiving a message from what seemed to be a legitimate buyer, the scammer sent him a link to a seemingly legitimate payment portal. “Trusting my instincts, I proceeded with the transaction”, Munir explains “only to find out later that the payment was entirely fraudulent.”
“I was left not only without the promised funds but also without the fireworks I had set aside for this sale. It was a significant financial setback for my business, and I felt a deep sense of betrayal.” – Saj Munir founder of Chorlton Fireworks
How to avoid fake payments on Facebook Marketplace: To avoid falling victim to this scam like Munir, sellers should only use payment methods that can't be reversed last minute and should always wait until a payment has cleared before posting an item.
Facebook Marketplace Refund Scams
Another popular swindle to look out for on Facebook Marketplace is refund scams. In this social engineering exercise, scammers claim they have rightfully purchased a product, before asking sellers for a full or partial refund.
Sometimes the fraudster will claim a product is faulty or not as advertised, and other times, buyers will ask for a refund without paying the seller money in the first place (see screenshot below).
No matter which technique is used, sellers always lose out when issuing refunds so it's important to make sure that requests are legitimate before continuing.
How to veer clear of refund scams on Facebook Marketplace: Sellers should always hold out issuing refunds until the item has been returned. This way, they can check if there actually is a fault with the product and avoid being frauded.
Are Facebook and Facebook Marketplace Safe?
Facebook and its selling subsidiary Facebook Marketplace offer safe and legit ways to connect with friends and to shop and sell locally. However, just like with all social media platforms and online marketplaces with large user numbers, they also open opportunities for getting scammed to users who aren't practicing due diligence. Fraudsters are simply everywhere on social media, evidenced by the fact that even LinkedIn scams are now rife on the otherwise sanguine platform for professional networking.
However, by learning about the most common cons taking place on the Meta-owned sites – and hearing a few cautionary tales – we hope your experience on the platforms can become much safer. Remember, if something on either platform seems too good to be true, it probably is.