Facebook Marketplace Scam: Paying insurance via Royal Mail Express
Have you posted an offer on Facebook Marketplace and then been contacted by a serious bidder requesting payment via Royal Mail Express or some other unknown service? Did he or she offer to send a courier to your address to package the product, hand you cash and arrange delivery of the package?
You won’t make any money this time. It’s a scam. It works on a similar principle to the Airbnb rental scam or the Booking.com scam. Again, the Facebook Marketplace platform is just being exploited by scammers.
How to spot a scammer on Facebook Marketplace
Short and clear: At some stage, you’ll be asked to pay a fee for, say, package insurance. If your first language is not English but one of the lesser-used languages, the text in the email will be poorly translated at first glance.
You can spot a fraudulent advert or a fraudulent bidder for your product on Facebook Market by the following markers. They don’t all have to match, but the more there are, the more likely you are to have come across a scammer.
1️⃣ Payment via an unknown service
The most common scenario is that a scammer responds to an advertisement that has been placed. The first two or three messages are inquiries as to whether the offer is still valid. The perpetrator usually uses prepared messages that he just copies into the chat. He does not read your answers because he is a foreigner and would have to translate them into your language.
Soon, he or she shows interest in the product offered, saying that payment will be made through a non-standard service that may not even operate in your country. For example, the British “Royal Mail Express” does not have a branch in the Czech Republic. Yet he wants to use it.
If you agree, he will ask you for your postal and e-mail address so that he can send a courier to you to collect the parcel. He escalates the psychological pressure by promising to pay the money in cash by courier the very next day.
Subsequently, a message arrives in your inbox pretending to be from the courier company. It is again planted by a fraudster who uses, for example, the e-mail address email@example.com. The account is created on a commonly available service (Gmail, Yahoo, Live.com, etc.) but pretends to be official.
The companies mentioned have nothing to do with the scam, they are also victims. The perpetrators abuse their name because they are well-known and often trusted companies.
The goal of the scammers is to get your money – often in the form of prepaid vouchers that are hard to trace. The demand is disguised in the email as, for example, “mandatory payment of the parcel insurance fee”.
- Royal Mail Express
2️⃣ User has a newly created Facebook profile
Facebook blocks fraudsters’ profiles to the extent possible (sometimes), so they have to create new ones all the time.
View a user’s profile to see when their profile and timeline photo, wall posts and comments were added. Scammers use local-sounding names, but often already make their profile look untrustworthy by adding “comments from friends” in a foreign language.
The profile has no history and if there are any posts, they are usually related to current sales.
3️⃣ The interested party does not speak the local language
This point is characteristic for smaller countries that have their own language, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary or Poland. As an example, let’s take the Czech Republic, where the author of this article comes from and where he gained the experience to write this article.
The perpetrators of Facebook Marketplace scams are always foreigners, very often from African countries. They use Czech-sounding names when communicating, but their native language is English or French. So they use a translator or speak English directly.
To a native Czech, the Czech in the messages (and emails) will immediately seem strange – nonsense phrases are used, words are capitalized in the wrong place, or part of the text is in a foreign language – it is almost certainly a hoax.
Of course, a foreigner living in the Czech Republic might be interested in the product on offer, but he or she will not use a Czech name. And why would someone abroad order a relatively cheap item?
4️⃣ Graphic design of emails and newsletters
As a rule, all the emails, confirmations or screenshots you receive in connection with a sale are of very poor graphic design. The email plays with all the colours, the text is badly indented, different fonts are often combined.
Compare them to newsletters from well-known companies or confirmations of purchases from online stores. Can you see the difference?
Variance: payment via Royal Mail Express
The person interested in the item (the scammer) will usually start the conversation by asking if the offer is still available. It may have a Czech name, but the text is obviously translated from another language and the profile was created very recently.
Once a sale is agreed, the scammer will ask for payment via Royal Mail EXPRESS delivery in an envelope. “Royal Mail will send a courier to your postal address to collect the package, hand over the money and then send the goods to my delivery address”.
The fraudster then pretends to order a courier. He asks for your email and postal address and a time when you will be available. A message from the supposed courier company Royal Mail Express arrives at the email address provided. The name and email matches the one sent on Facebook – because the email was sent by the same scammer.
Its aim is to extort money from the victim “for parcel insurance” to be paid via Dundle prepaid cards. While the email uses the logos of Paypal, Visa or Mastercard, none of these companies have anything to do with the transaction. The logos are meant to serve the purpose of gaining the trust of the defrauded.
What should I do if I’ve been duped?
⛔ Get the fraudulent profile blocked
Report the fraudster’s Facebook profile as fake. This is despite the fact that Facebook’s approach to blocking these people “has some potential for improvement” (in my experience, they don’t block the fraudulent account and just send me a message saying that no violation of the rules was found).
You can also report a Gmail account as fraudulent. Copy the email from the “courier company” into the report.
Even if both accounts are blocked by the fraudsters, they will promptly set up new ones. At the very least, you’ll make his life more difficult and deprive him of a few deals.
👮 File a criminal complaint
If you’ve fallen for it and sent the scammers money, I’m afraid you’ll never see it again. Scammers often get paid with gift cards and vouchers because they are harder to trace. Once they receive payment, they often collect the money immediately.
You can file a criminal complaint against an unknown offender for fraud at any police station. The police will take a report with you and use conversations as evidence, among other things.
The offender is very unlikely to be prosecuted. They are almost always foreigners, often from countries where international police cooperation is more difficult. For example, the fraudster who served as the trigger for this article is from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.
(I loved CSI: Las Vegas in my youth, so I also discovered that he uses an Apple iPhone X with carrier Orange and writes via the Facebook Messenger Lite app. He translates messages into English from his native French.)
💵 Did you send your credit card number to the scammers?
Call your bank and have your card blocked immediately.
In some fraud scenarios, the perpetrators will ask for your credit card number, including the expiration date and CVC2 (the code on the back), so they can “send money” to your account. This is nonsense, the only goal is to siphon money from the card.
📇 Have you sent your documents to the fraudsters?
It’s not that common with Facebook scams, but still: If you’ve sent scammers a scan of your ID, driver’s license or passport, report the document to the police as stolen.
There is a risk that fraudsters will misuse your identity in future adverts.
✉️ Write to me if you have experienced fraud
If you have new information about scams on Facebook Marketplace or have encountered a scenario other than the above, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add to the article if necessary so that fewer people are scammed.
You can also add your experience as a comment to this article.
A few tricks for life
🖼️ How to verify a photo isn’t stolen
Some scammers use photos they steal from other users’ public profiles. Fortunately, it’s very easy to verify that a picture hasn’t been downloaded from another site, just upload it to Google, Tineye and Yandex.
These search engines will compare the image against their database and if they find a match, they will show it to you. Each of these services has its own database, so it’s a good idea to use all three at the same time.
If you can’t find the image on any of the sites, it still doesn’t mean that the photo actually belongs to the other party. The image could have been obtained from a private conversation in another scam or through a photo-generating service.
📧 Set up an email for public sharing
Don’t use your personal email address in advertisements or when signing up for services you don’t plan to use regularly.
Set up a new mailbox that you can list everywhere without getting annoying spam. You don’t have to invent anything complicated, just have email@example.com next to firstname.lastname@example.org.
📱 Second phone number for classifieds
If you’re buying or selling more than a set of old garden furniture, it’s worth getting a second phone number. This is what you’ll include in all adverts – it filters out all communication and means you won’t be traced back through the phone number in the future.
In some countries, you can get a free prepaid SIM card from operators as an advertising offer. In addition, most phones now allow the use of two numbers.
💳 One-time virtual payment card
Great protection against credit card theft is offered by Revolut and many other banks. The Virtual Disposable Card is a classic credit card, except that once you enter its number somewhere and a transaction takes place, it stops working. However, a new card number will be generated.
With a disposable virtual payment card, you can be sure that no more than one transaction will take place with it.
You can increase the level of security even further by setting a spending limit of, for example, $1 on your card. A simple trick can be used to verify the authenticity of the Internet payment gateway – if the transaction still goes through, it is fake and the card number has been copied.
This article about scams on Facebook Marketplace originally appeared in Czech, this is a translation. Some of the information mentioned in the article is based on the author’s experience with scams in the Czech Republic. They may differ in your country.