Back in September of last year, six months ago, ProPublica ran a detailed exposé of scams running in the Facebook Marketplace. As of today, not much has changed at all.
Going into the Facebook Marketplace for just about anything is an experience akin to walking in a crowd and feeling hands in your pockets trying to lift out your wallet and car keys.
Not only are the scams that ProPublica described still running just as they were six months ago, they have expanded. At any given time you can pop into the Marketplace and see ads to later model cars at impossibly low prices. The sellers, if these use Messenger at all, will usually try to get you to email them directly at what will be a throwaway Gmail address and give you a story about the car being sold on behalf of a sister, uncle, mother-in-law, etc. It is also being “stored” some place like a military base or other location and will have to be shipped to you once paid for. It is all a script and it is all bullshit. The car doesn’t exist. There’s only the photo.
Criminals trolling for suckers on Facebook are not just posting Marketplace listings they have taken out ads that appear in the main news feed. Some of these ads, for example, will show a late model vehicle in good shape like a Chevy Suburban or Tahoe with a price of $1200. The ad will link to a one-page website that has the same photo, minimal specs and an email address, usually a Gmail address to contact the seller, and then you get the same spiel.
Then there’s the ads for very cool looking electric scooters that normally sell for $599 to $1599 at prices like $99 or even less. These ads link to websites that allow you to “place an order.” Of course you’ll never see the scooter or your money again.
Other items with impossibly low prices like drones, electronic devices, tractors, lawn equipment and others are rife in the Marketplace. A recent incident occurred in Clearwater, Florida where a woman was arrested for renting out a house she did not own and advertised it on social media.
The old adage of buyer beware certainly applies. But the big question is what is Facebook going to do about it? And when will that be? ProPublica busted them six months ago. It is hard to imagine that a significant number of these fake ads couldn’t be prevented by software algorithms since the patterns are so similar and consistent.
Could it be that the desire for advertising revenue is overriding considerations of user safety on the network? Remember, every ad placed on Facebook has to pass some sort of review before going live.