A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Ways to Stay Safe When Using Facebook Marketplace

Buying and selling things online is a great way to make some extra cash or save a few bucks. But safety always comes first. Here are strategies to buy and sell items on Facebook Marketplace securely.

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Don’t automatically trust

Facebook and similar social media sites are ideal for virtual friendships, but just because you “know” someone online doesn’t mean they are trustworthy, cautions Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. Facebook Marketplace rules purport that you be especially cautious when it comes to transactions that involve computers, mobile telephones, jewelry, and other items that can be easily resold. Don’t drop your guard simply because you’re working with an acquaintance, he says. Find out if you can see who’s viewed your Facebook profile.

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Guard personal details

Some sellers or buyers will ask about your working hours or if you have a spouse or another person who can help with moving a heavy object. Those questions are often ploys to determine vulnerability. Questions that raise a red flag include: Are you home alone? Are you a single mom? Will you allow me to come into your house and take the item? “[Criminals] want to understand your habits and the layout of your home so they can return and break-in,” says international safety expert Tom Patire of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Put home security systems in place and don’t volunteer information that could help a burglar.

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Practice security through obscurity

The cyber safety rules you heard when you were little can apply as Facebook Marketplace rules, too. Don’t offer your full name and contact information. Meet in a public place such as a police station, fast food restaurant, or shopping mall. Of course, you should never give out account or other personal information, either. “When you obscure where you live, you’re putting up a barrier between the transaction and your personal life,” Siciliano says. “Some people’s homes have been invaded and that can happen to you, too.” Cancel the meeting if you have any doubts or suspicious feelings, and in general, just follow these tips to protect yourself from being scammed online.

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Gather identification details pre-meeting

It’s important to gather information about the other person, including a physical description, before the transaction. Search social media for details. And put doubt in the other person’s mind about who will be at the meeting. “A little white lie like, ‘My brother is a cop and will be here so don’t be nervous if you see a police car in the driveway,’ will make the person with whom you’re dealing think twice about harming you,” said Patire. You can even talk on the phone (or pretend to do so) when the person arrives and say something like, “See you in ten minutes. You’ll meet [say name] who is here to buy my item.”

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Enlist a buddy

Have a spouse, friend, or neighbor accompany you to the meeting. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or clothing. Do wear sneakers so you can run if needed, said Siciliano. Also, let others know your plans for the transaction. Communication is key. Read on for some secrets you never knew were hiding in your Facebook profile.

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Notify the police if the transaction is at your home

It may be impossible to take a dining room set or large pieces of furniture to a neutral location for the transaction. So there are Facebook Marketplace rules for doing a transaction at your home, too. Move the furniture, appliance, or other item outside. Discreetly jot down the license plate number of the car in which the person arrives. You could alert the local police of the upcoming meeting and request they drive by your house, said Patire. “That’s the biggest thing I tell all my clients,” he says. “The police are there to protect and serve. Every phone call to them is recorded. If you ask them to drive by your house at a certain time, they will.”

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Don’t automatically reject this type of selling

Yes, there can be risks to buying and selling on Facebook and similar online exchanges. Use diligence, though, and follow these Facebook Marketplace rules, and you can remain safe while making beneficial transactions, says Patire. “I don’t want people to think selling this way isn’t a good idea,” he says. “Every once in a while, you will find a person with the wrong intent. Limit what you say, have a good safety system in place, and you can spotlight them and remain safe.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Nancy Dunham
Nancy Dunham is an award-winning Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in writing about personal finance, automobiles, insurance, and lifestyle topics. Her work appears in People magazine, Automotive News, MoneyTalks News, Fortune, US News & World Report and Mental Floss. She also has written for corporate clients including Nationwide Insurance, Hartford Insurance, Johns Hopkins University, and the National Automobile Dealers Associaton.

Dunham also writes feature stories on musicians, television, pets and travel. That work has appeared in USA Today, Gannett, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and many other publications.

Before moving to full-time freelance work in 2008, Dunham was a managing editor of several business-to-business and healthcare publications. She was also a daily newspaper report for Gannett Newspapers.