JUSTICE OKAMGBA writes on why you need to protect yourself from being a victim of scams while using Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace has become a bustling hub for buying and selling, with a staggering one billion users engaged in transactions.

However, it is not just legitimate sellers making profits; there is also an increasing number of scammers targeting unsuspecting buyers.

These scammers employ sophisticated tactics that can result in significant financial losses, often leaving victims out of pocket by hundreds or even thousands of naira.

Facebook Marketplace, introduced in 2016, simplifies local buying and selling by connecting users in the same area.

Surprisingly, however, it was not until 2021 that Marketplace became available in Nigeria, despite already being active in South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

This delay in Nigeria’s access to Marketplace is noteworthy, especially considering Nigeria’s status as having the largest Facebook user base in Africa.

According to Statista, the number of Nigerian Facebook users is projected to grow to 43.53 million in 2025.

Facebook’s decision to launch Marketplace in Nigeria was a strategic move to capitalise on the growing trend of e-commerce, spurred further by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a survey conducted by Thinkmoney, nearly one in six individuals using Facebook Marketplace in Nigeria reported falling victim to scams.

Despite these risks, there are steps users can take to protect themselves from scams when using Marketplace.

Meet in a safe environment

To ensure your safety when meeting a stranger for transactions, it is best to choose a public location with visible surveillance cameras, such as the parking lot of a police station. Avoid meeting at someone’s home, as this increases the risk of theft. Instead, opt for a public area and consider bringing along a friend or two for added security.

There are many public places like malls, bus stops, eateries, etc., that you could use as “exchange spots” to facilitate safe transactions. These spots provide additional security measures and help minimise the risks associated with meeting strangers.

Online privacy expert at EarthWeb,  Trevor Cooke, said that before sending any deposits, it is essential to confirm that the item is real, either by inspecting it in person or through a video call.

Trevor explained, “Scammers often use the tactic of requesting deposits upfront without providing any proof of the item’s authenticity so that they can ghost you and walk away with the deposit.”

Fake transfer alert

A seasoned online marketer, Stephen Chen, said that asking for a phone number was a very common scam to tie you to a Google voice number that they can use to commit a crime.

“Sellers beware! Fake buyers want to hijack your phone number,” Chen noted on his official page on Quora.

He said another scam was fraudsters claiming to have made payment to you via their digital payment platforms, but their bank needed time to clear the transfers.

“They usually send you a confirmation email, which they want a screenshot of. Then they will try to back out of the deal and demand a refund, or come and demand the goods based on that screenshot.

“The telltale sign is the sender address of that Zelle confirmation email. Watch out for these creeps! And remember to report these scams so Facebook knows about them,” Chen explained.

Always verify

A financial and cybercrime investigator, Drew Ingraham, has warned about scammers using a new tactic to deceive unsuspecting victims.

According to Ingraham, these scammers are adept at building trust and dependency over time. They often begin by sending small amounts of money to establish credibility, eventually leading to requests for larger sums.

He enunciated that once victims were financially invested, scammers exploited their emotions, manipulating heartstrings to extract more money.

Ingraham emphasised the importance of vigilance and urged the public to be wary of such tactics to avoid falling prey to financial scams.

The expert stated, “When it comes to Facebook and social media platforms, never assume anything is true until you verify it yourself. If it sounds too good to be true, 99 per cent of the time, it is not true. Be cautious of fake news, free giveaways, etc., as delivery methods for malware.

“Just like email scams of the past, these leverage stories, news, or offers that catch your attention. The point is to have you click on a link or share something that propagates malware.”

Research your item

Whether you are a seller or buyer, you can be scammed on the marketplace. Before deciding to buy anything, you need to research the item.

 Know the price, the features, alternative products, and any other necessary details.

Compare the quality of the product, the offering price, and the features as well.

 Fake profile

Another online seller, Albert Hsieh, emphasised the potential risks associated with interacting with individuals using secondary accounts on social media platforms.

Hsieh cited an instance where an individual named Skeevic Skee contacted him, using images sourced from Google and an account allegedly established a few years ago.

However, the incongruity between the name, profile picture, and account details raised suspicions regarding its authenticity.

“When something like this pops up or an account with nothing in it, regardless of when it was created, ignore them, as they’re likely going to try and pull something on you.

“It is not guaranteed, but just that it is better safe than sorry because if they were planning to scam you, a fake profile with fake names and such is the way to go about it,” Hsieh explained.

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