Buying and selling online can be a real convenience for individuals. It’s a handy way to find bargains, get rid of unwanted items, or buy or sell unusual things without necessarily having to jump in your car. But if you’re not careful it can also be a handy way to get scammed.
Craigslist with its online classified ads and eBay with its auctions have long been the market leaders here. But in October 2016 Facebook entered this space with Marketplace, leveraging its deep social media presence and taking on Craigslist in particular with location-based buying and selling.
In Marketplace, you can browse categories such as Home, Entertainment, Clothing & Accessories, Family, Electronics, Hobbies, Vehicles & Bicycles, and Classifieds, specifying a radius or distance from you from 2 to 100 miles. You can also do a search for something in particular.
Combining old and new, Marketplace is also now implementing a feature for sellers to post information about garage sales and for buyers to find garage sales nearby.
Unlike eBay, it doesn’t cost anything to sell through Facebook Marketplace. Facebook is just a venue, taking a hands-off approach and using Marketplace to further cement users’ loyalty.
Here are tips for buyers:
- Do your research before you buy. Check out what similar items, whether new or used, sell for elsewhere on Marketplace or on Craigslist, eBay, or Amazon. Obviously the pricier the item, the more risk involved and the more important this is.
- Sometimes sellers put up an item with a price considerably higher than what you would pay elsewhere. They’re just looking for suckers. Other times sellers put up an item for next to nothing just so they don’t feel bad about throwing the item away. Great deals can be had. So the old saw, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” doesn’t always apply. But sometimes it does.
- This leads to … Don’t hesitate to ask sellers questions. Ask why they’re selling. If these things aren’t already mentioned, ask if the item is new or used, how old it is, and if it has any defects. Negotiate if appropriate.
- Check out sellers. Click on sellers’ profiles. Do they live nearby? If the item is on a local sale page but the seller doesn’t live near you, shop elsewhere. If sellers have Facebook friends with names that sound made-up, shop elsewhere. Do a reverse image search on sellers’ profile pictures. If it comes up as someone else, shop elsewhere. Do sellers include in their posts questionable links to items such as quick weight loss pills? If so, shop elsewhere.
- Sellers are human, and they sometimes have second thoughts after someone expresses interest. If they up the price after hearing from you, shop elsewhere.
- If you’re having the item sent to you rather than picking it up in person, paying through PayPal can give you some protection in case it doesn’t arrive.
Here are tips for sellers:
- Sellers should do their research as well. Price the item fairly to minimize potential problems. You shouldn’t be using Marketplace to make money from buying items on Amazon.
- Be honest with your descriptions. If an item is used, say so, and if it has cosmetic defects, say so. Because Facebook doesn’t police Marketplace, some Facebook users do, exposing sellers who use questionable or sleazy tactics.
- Post good photos. Show all of an item’s sides, if appropriate. If you’re selling a brand-name item, include a close-up photo of the label. If it’s a nearly new item you bought, used lightly, and then decided you didn’t need it, include a photo of the receipt. If it’s a pricy collectable, consider including a photo of an appraisal letter from a reputable source.
- It’s generally not a good idea to let the buyer obtain possession of the item by making payments.
And finally, tips for buyers and sellers:
- If you’re picking up an item or receiving payment in person, take the same care in meeting that person that you would when out on a first date through an online dating service. Most people are safe, but there are always exceptions.
- Don’t go to someone’s house or have them come to yours. Meet in a public place such as a restaurant. If appropriate, have a friend come along. And if you do, first run this by your buyer or seller.
- Consider meeting in a police station parking lot. Some have “exchange spots” designated just for this purpose so people can meet up safely. Even if yours doesn’t, the parking lot will likely have security cameras.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.