Online classified ads continue to be a popular way to buy and sell items of all kinds, from baby clothing to cars. Still, some deals on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are too good to be true, opening up shoppers to disappointment or even danger. It’s important for consumers to research deals carefully and take some common-sense steps to protect themselves and their money when purchasing from classified sites.
Nationally, Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Scam Tracker received more than 10,000 complaints in 2018 about online purchases. Of those, more than 2,600 originated on social media such as Facebook, and more than 800 reports named online classified sites like Craigslist as the means of contact. Online purchases ranked as 2018’s second-riskiest scam both nationally and in the St. Louis region.
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace scams take many forms, but they often involve fake car or apartment advertisements. BBB St. Louis issued a warning in June 2018 about fraudulent vehicle shippers operating through online marketplaces; the fraudsters use a story such as a recent divorce, a death in the family or an impending military deployment to advertise a car for quick sale, claiming it is being stored by a third party that requires a bank-to-bank wire transfer before the car can be picked up. In reality, the car does not exist, and the money is lost.
Other common online classified scams involve overpayment for a product or products that simply don’t exist. Fake job advertisements also are common on Craigslist. Puppy scams also often operate in online classified spaces; BBB issued an in-depth investigative study about these scams in 2017.
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can be a great place to find deals, but as BBB Scam Tracker data and the occasional news story suggest, much can go wrong with these purchases.
BBB advises keeping these tips in mind when making a purchase on an online classified site:
- Always meet the seller and see the item or property before you buy. Photos in a listing are helpful but can be faked easily. For instance, if you can't tour the advertised house or see the car before buying or renting it, it's probably not available.
- Whenever possible, meet in a safe, secure spot. Many municipalities make public places available for Craigslist or similar transactions, such as the local police station. Consider taking a friend and a second vehicle if possible.
- Avoid deals in which payment is also requested for shipping or escrow services. This scam is only one take on this trend. Avoid them by purchasing directly from the seller.
- Never give out personal information including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or your address to anyone.
- Get as much information from the seller as possible, including a name and phone number. Never deal with a person who will not talk to you on the phone. Consider writing down the license plate number of the seller’s car when meeting for a transaction.
- Watch out for very low advertised prices. While the value of used items naturally varies, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Report scams on Facebook Marketplace by opening the drop-down menu in the upper-right corner of a Facebook post and clicking “Report Post,” then “Fraud or Scam.”
- Report Craigslist scams by contacting Craigslist. You can also flag fraudulent posts and scams on the site by clicking the “prohibited” link at the top of a posting.
- Report scams to your local police.
- Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker.
For assistance, visit bbb.org or call 573-803-3190