Some scams encourage people to upgrade their Zelle accounts to a business tier to receive money from a buyer, according to the Better Business Bureau, and come from emails mimicking Zelle, but with different domains. That upgrade appears to cost $300, and the buyer promises to send it if the seller will then refund it. The catch: the $300 was never sent and appeared only in faked screenshots or emails. So, when the seller sends $300, they’re really just losing the money.
Zelle’s website notes that it will send emails only from domains ending in @zelle.com and @zellepay.com, and any others could be scams. The company did not answer more specific questions about Facebook Marketplace scams, citing an effort to keep intel from fraudsters.
Other scammers use Google Voice, asking people for their verification code—all under the guise of verifying that the person isn’t a scammer. But with that code, a scammer can then create a Google Voice number using the victim’s phone number, which helps them to conceal their identity for future scams. Additionally, it can help them impersonate someone and get access to their accounts, according to the US Federal Trade Commission. When asked for comment on Facebook Marketplace scams, Google pointed to guidance it posts for people to not share their verification codes, and the company has ways for people to reclaim stolen Google Voice numbers.
Experts say the constant evolving nature of scams makes them tricky for companies to defeat. “It’s a giant game of whack-a-mole,” says Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist with digital security company Aura. “They change something about the way they’ve done a scam. It’s really difficult for any organization to keep up with that volume at scale.”
Meta has continued to grow Facebook Marketplace even as scams linger. A 2022 ProPublica investigation found that Facebook Marketplace scams had run rampant and that the company was potentially understaffed to a degree that impeded its ability to stop scammers. In addition to in-house workers, Meta had contracted 400 Accenture workers around the world and gave each person more than 600 complaints or requests for help to process each day. Even worse, ProPublica found a number of alleged armed robberies and murders had occurred in relation to Facebook Marketplace meetups. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, did not answer questions about how it monitors scams now and the information in the ProPublica investigation.
Facebook Marketplace has evolved to more than just selling in the neighborhood. There are options to ship products after a sale, and some small shops have used the platform to grow their business. All of these different types of transactions bring different concerns about scams. Marketplace offers purchase protection, but it doesn’t cover payments made through third-party sites like Zelle, items picked up locally, or transactions conducted through Facebook Messenger.
I lost track of the number of people who seemed eager to scam me—I reported lots of scammers and then left chats, which disappeared. A few people may have been legitimately interested but dropped off early in the conversation. In the end, the frustration wasn’t worth the cash. I’m stuck with this couch, and there’s only one solution left. I’m heading over to another side of Facebook entirely: Buy Nothing.