I Lost $300 to a Facebook Marketplace Scam, What I Wish I Knew

What started as an attempt to make some extra cash ahead of the holidays turned into a cautionary tale and a $300 loss.

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That is correct. I, an editor at a business publication that often warns our readers about the dangers of online scams, fell victim to an online scam.

The saga began at a sample sale, where New Yorkers like me go to buy items at a huge discount—if we’re willing to sort through the endless racks of designs that weren’t sold at luxury retailers.

And if you’ve ever experienced a trial sale, you know it’s pretty horrible. Not only do you struggle to find what you want in your size, but these sales usually don’t have fitting rooms, leaving customers with no choice but to buy the product they want and hope it zips up when they arrive home.

Unfortunately, it was a pair of pink high rise pants that cost me about $150 on one of my sample sale adventures, literally. The pants sat in my closet for months taunting me, and with the holidays approaching, I thought it was time to find them a new home and me some extra cash.

So I turned to Facebook Marketplace, something I’ve done many times before. Most of my furniture was sourced from the platform and I even sold and traded a few pieces myself.

Image credit: Screenshot courtesy of Sam Silverman

I listed the pants on Facebook Marketplace for $150. Two days later I got a call from what appeared to be a nice older woman named “Nancy Andrews”.

She wanted the pants and said her cousin would pick them up from my apartment the next day. She said she would send me the payment via Zelle. Everything seemed standard at this point.

I received a very legitimate email from what I thought was Zelle that the buyer must send me $300 to upgrade my account to a business account. The buyer reportedly received the same email and said she had no problem doing so as long as I agreed to send her the excess balance back. Of course I agreed.

I received another email from the same legitimate Zelle address asking me to send $300 to the buyer to verify me as a business account. After doing so, I will receive a refund of $300 and $150 for the pants.

Image credit: Screenshot courtesy of Sam Silverman

At this point I was very hesitant. However, the woman was very kind to me and said that this had happened to her before. I asked her to switch to Venmo and she said she trusted Zelle more as she had been scammed in the past.

After going back and forth I relented. I just wanted to get rid of these pants and get on with my day. I sent Zelle to an email account provided by the buyer. But then I got another email asking for more money. At that point I knew I had screwed up.

I told the woman I refused to send more money and she sent me several angry messages asking me to continue the process. She even sent me a screenshot of her bank account to prove that she sent the extra funds to upgrade my account.

She also called me several times and her tone was not pleasant.

I immediately called my bank and explained what had happened. Other than filing a report, they told me there wasn’t much they could do and that these scams are common and similar to a stolen car. If you get your money back that’s great, but it’s unlikely.

I was also asked to file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and report the Facebook account I corresponded with. However, Facebook quickly got back to me saying that it did not consider the account a threat and would allow it to remain active.

Shocked at how easily I was duped, I began researching the series of emails I received from Zelle Services. When I first looked at the emails on my phone, I never took note of the email address the messages came from. To my surprise, the address was “zelleserviicemanagement@gmail.com.” Now, I can imagine that an official Zelle contact wouldn’t use a Gmail account or spell “service” with two Is.

Image credit: Screenshot courtesy of Sam Silverman

Despite being clearly misled by using Zelle’s name, the company says it is “not in a position to help get the money back,” but “it is important to us that users have the ability to report this experience. “

Although I was kicking myself for falling victim to a scam, I was by no means alone.

Data provider Been Verified analyzed 165,000 fraud complaints over the past three years and found that Facebook Marketplace fraud increased by 184.8% in the past year. This makes them the fastest growing scam in 2022, with both sellers and buyers reporting illegitimate transactions.

In one case, a Michigan woman lost her $15,000 in a Facebook Marketplace car scam.

In addition, Zelle scams were listed as the second fastest growing scams by Been Verified, with Zelle scams up 86% this year, many of which were linked to Facebook Marketplace listings.

The payment platform’s transactions are encrypted, making it difficult for hackers to redirect an ongoing payment. However, as a peer-to-peer payment provider, it makes it almost impossible for people to recover money they were scammed out of.

To combat this dilemma, banks JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and others are in talks to work out a standard plan to compensate customers who got confused with Zelle.

The banks will share responsibility within Zelle’s systems, and in the event of a fraud, the funds will be returned to the victim’s bank account, according to The Wall Street Journal. Other financial institutions — Zelle currently works with more than 1,800 — would have to agree to the new policy or risk being cut from the network. The policy may come into effect early next year.

Zelle operator Early Warning Services LLC claims that fraud accounts for just 0.1% of payments made on the platform, which amounted to $490 billion in 2021.

Aside from Facebook Marketplace and Zelle, scams have become increasingly prevalent across the country. In 2021, non-payment and non-delivery fraud cost people $337 million, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report.

At the same time, fraudsters have become more sophisticated.

“Technology has made it easier to do a better job of impersonating,” AJ Nash, vice president of intelligence at ZeroFox, told Contractor. “It costs very little to buy a domain that looks very close to the real thing. It’s a misspelling, or they use a small “L” to replace a big “I.” There are many different ways to set it up .”

From fake websites to email addresses, it doesn’t take much to make something appear legitimate.

“The longer you go on these courses, if opponents connect things and layer them, the more trust it creates,” says Nash. “If you believed the first, then everything else will reinforce it as a potential victim.”

How to avoid online fraud

It is important to keep your eyes wide open during all online transactions.

Look for discrepancies in spelling and grammar, and view the transaction on a larger screen to make sure you don’t miss anything. Nash also suggests copying and pasting addresses and URLs into a document so errors are easier to spot.

He recommends having a separate credit card for online transactions to prevent attackers from moving “laterally” through your other accounts and using different usernames and passwords for all of your accounts.

“If they trick you into the site and you give out your information, [for a] a lot of people, that means you’re giving everything away,” Nash says. “It turns out that’s the one password and username that’s used for everything. This is the time of year to remember to randomize passwords and use password management and two-factor authentication.”

Most importantly, pay attention to details and take a breath. If I wasn’t so tough and tried to make the transaction work, I might have saved $300.

Long story short, my pants are still for sale.

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