Avoiding scams when buying and selling online

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (What the Tech?) — Since the early days of the pandemic, there has been a surge in people buying and selling personal items online. Today, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are the two most popular websites for selling those unneeded items online – and they’re both safe if you know how to spot scams and avoid them.

To demonstrate, I listed a DSLR camera I hadn’t used in years on Facebook Marketplace. I took a few photos of the camera, added a description, set a price, and hit save.

Within a few minutes, I received eight responses from other Facebook users asking if the item was still available. Before responding to those messages, I decided to check them out first.

Six of the messages appeared to be from real people with authentic Facebook profile accounts from my area. Two of them were clearly faked. One user’s profile contained no photos, no posts, and no friends. A second suspicious profile only had a picture of a cat as his profile photo and had posted only once, a photo of a lizard playing the guitar.

Before responding to every Marketplace message, check the person’s Facebook profile. You’ll find a link to it in their message where they created a “group”. Even if their Facebook profile has a few pictures and posts it’s a good idea to take a closer look before doing business with them.

On another item I recently listed, I received a message from Colleen Reyes, who said she could pick up the item the next day. Out of curiosity, I opened her profile photo in a new Google Chrome tab. I then copied the photo link and pasted it into a search bar at www.tineye.com

That TinEye search found the user had stolen a photo of a New Jersey lawyer from a 2014 newspaper article. The scammer stole that photo, cropped it and then uploaded it as a profile photo to create a Facebook account for Colleen Reyes.

You should also be suspicious of any buyer who asks that you move your conversation to another platform such as WeChat, Twitter, or text.

A potential buyer may ask you to move the conversation to text and provides their phone number. They then ask you to prove you’re human. They send a Google verification code and then ask you to text it to them. The code allows the scammer to set up a new Google Voice number tied to your phone number that they can use to scam other people.

Another common scam appeared in a Craigslist listing I posted a few months ago.

A woman sent a text saying she can’t pick up the item right now but that she’ll send a cashier’s check to me for the item I listed – and for my trouble, she’ll pay a little more. She also said the cashier’s check will be made out for a little more than I listed the item, and asked that I cash the cashier’s check and wire her the difference.

If you carry through with that, the cashier’s check will bounce and you’ll have to reimburse the bank. If you ship it to the seller before the check clears you’ll lose money by repaying the bank, and you’ll lose the item.

Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are safe to use as long as you pay attention, understand how the scams work and avoid messaging people who appear to be fake buyers.

If you’re selling items locally, it is best to meet the buyer somewhere other than your home. Ask to meet them at the police station and never accept a check. Cash should be your first choice, though Venmo and Zelle are fine for accepting payments.