TSB Issues 'Urgent Warning' To Consumers Over Facebook Marketplace Scams

January 23, 2024
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A new report from TSB has found that more than a third of adverts on Facebook Marketplace could be scams, following similar warnings last year in response to a "huge" rise in Facebook fraud.

A new report from TSB has found that more than a third of adverts on Facebook Marketplace could be scams, following similar warnings last year in response to a "huge" rise in Facebook fraud.

UK bank TSB has warned consumers to “avoid” making purchases on Facebook Marketplace as the risk of being scammed on the platform continues to be extremely high.

In its latest report, members of the TSB fraud team sampled 100 Facebook Marketplace posts and engaged with sellers to determine whether the items listed were genuinely for sale.

The team sampled a wide range of items, including cars (which account for the highest losses to scams), watches, games consoles, air fryers and handbags.

The study concluded that 34 percent of the listings were fraudulent, based on the sellers’ use of purchase fraud tactics.

For example, some of the sellers directed TSB investigators to fake websites, some refused to allow the purchaser to view the item in person and some demanded fees in advance.

TSB also found that some items were labelled “brand new” despite selling for hundreds of pounds less than their retail price.

Overall, Facebook Marketplace now accounts for 73 percent of all purchase fraud cases at TSB, and remains the biggest driver of fraud by volume.

TSB further estimates that British consumers may have lost up to £60m to Facebook Marketplace scams in 2023, or £160,000 every day.

"You wouldn’t shop at a supermarket if a third of the items might be stale or counterfeit — so the same should apply to Facebook Marketplace, where you could have a one in three chance of being scammed,” said Matt Hepburn, fraud spokesperson at TSB.

“Social media companies really must act on their commitments under the government’s Online Fraud Charter by urgently clearing up their platforms — removing scam adverts is a good first test.”

The Online Fraud Charter, introduced in November last year, is a voluntary agreement between the government and the technology sector to reduce fraud on their platforms and services.

TSB sees little improvement from Meta

TSB said the findings of its latest study "chime" with those of similar studies published in 2023.

In May last year, the bank revealed that scams on Meta-owned platforms account for 80 percent of fraud cases at TSB across its three largest categories of fraud: purchase fraud; impersonation fraud; and investment fraud.

TSB also reported that instances of purchase fraud on Facebook Marketplace had almost doubled in less than a year.

In November, TSB published its findings from H1 2023, finding little improvement in the volume of scams taking place on Meta-owned platforms.

Facebook Marketplace remained the biggest driver of purchase fraud among TSB customers, with 77 percent of cases originating on the platform.

After Facebook Marketplace, the next largest sources of purchase fraud were Instagram (9 percent), X (4 percent), Snapchat (3.5 percent) and eBay (2 percent).

TSB also noted that eBay’s payment platform and customer verification processes have led to a “miniscule” fraud rate for eBay compared with that of Facebook Marketplace.

Potential solutions for securing Facebook Marketplace

Gary Prince, CEO of UK e-money institution The Payments Firm, said the main problem with Facebook Marketplace is that it has no verification process for sellers.

Sellers need only an email address to create a Facebook account, and then they can use the account to start selling items on Facebook Marketplace.

The second problem is that Facebook Marketplace does not offer a regulated payment method to users of the platform; instead, buyers and sellers make their own arrangements for sending and receiving payments.

Prince said that scams across all Meta-owned platforms could be “greatly reduced” if Meta introduced a verification process for sellers.

“Facebook could very easily do the checks eBay undertakes on all sellers, to ensure they are who they say they are,” he said.

“A fantastic use case of open banking would be an account information service (AIS) that validates all Facebook Marketplace participants against their bank account.”

Despite numerous ways to verify users of the platform, Prince said that Facebook is currently “doing nothing” to root out scammers.

Meta’s response

Responding to questions from Vixio, a Meta spokesperson said the company recognises its “important role” in tackling online purchase scams and it has systems in place to block scams.

“Facebook Marketplace is a local meet up and collection service so we don't facilitate payments or shipping, but scammers exploit this by taking conversations off our platforms where we can't enforce,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that Meta has tens of millions of people who use its apps daily, and the problem of scams and fraud is prevalent throughout the social media industry.

Among the precautions encouraged by Meta, users are advised not to purchase any item that they have not seen in person and to use “strong” payment methods such as PayPal.

But without any formal verification of sellers, Prince said Facebook Marketplace continues to provide an “open door” for scammers.

“There are scammers who will sell the same ‘item’ several times over, get the buyers to send them money via Faster Payments, and then block them all and disappear.”

Dan Holmes, fraud prevention expert at Feedzai, added that there are alternative verification methods that could be used to prevent scams on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace.

“Behavioural biometrics, device analysis, advanced AI and machine learning capabilities can stop scams early and with minimum impact on users,” he said.

“Basic controls such as device recognition for fraud prevention, and simple velocity checks, will also allow social media companies to better control scams on their platforms.”

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