Each new innovation in IT technology brings with it risks and dangers. Facebook Marketplace is no exception. An innovative way to buy and sell, it can put your personal safety at risk and it can open you up to “phantom buyers.”
I have lately dived into the world of Facebook Marketplace. Since the emergence of CraigsList in the late 1990’s, the market of buying and selling one’s “junk” has been transformed. Gone are the days when you had to go to the local newspaper, sit down with a classified ad “consultant” and post items to sell. Recall when Jay Leno got a lot of laughs from the crazy things people say in classified ads? CraigsList, along with Ebay, pretty much cornered the market until other competitors appeared, many of which would serve niche markets. Facebook Marketplace would make its appearance in 2007. Comedians turned to Tik Tok and Twitter for material.
Unfortunately for an old guy like me, I had about all I could handle with Ebay and Craigslist. I began to favor Craigslist because it catered more to the marketing situation of living in Juneau, Alaska. With the cost of shipping from Juneau, it was just too difficult to sell over Ebay and expect any return. Craigslist, however, was simple and I could direct it to the local market. I also sold stuff while in Columbia, Missouri, emptying out my father’s garage of sundry items that had been collecting dust for many years.
It would be my son who would repeatedly implore me to try Facebook Marketplace. I made a few attempts over the past few years with no success. But I have lately been hitting it with a lot more stuff and the results have been encouraging. I would say that each venue has its advantages and it pays to sell over both.
This article is designed for the Facebook Safespace, so its focus is on the risky or controversial aspects of using Facebook. For users of Facebook and Marketplace, the advantages are quite apparent. I don’t need to repeat them. But it is the dangers inherent in Facebook that I find a concern. I must also provide a disclaimer that this is purely my personal experience I am sharing. You may still want to conduct your own research on Marketplace. And, better yet, add to the conversation.
It is Public
Marketplace is a public forum. The algorithm is designed to take advantage of the “Location” you specify so that interested buyers in your local area will see what you are offering. Yet if you are a careful user of Facebook, Marketplace runs counter-intuitive to safe use. Realize that what you post on Marketplace opens your profile to the public. So make sure that your privacy settings are up to speed, only presenting what is necessary to gain the confidence of the prospective buyers. If you are a buyer, you may also want to note that fine-tuning your public profile may be necessary to gain the assurance of the seller. Smart sellers always check the profile before responding.
Note that not everybody that sends you a response lives in your neighborhood. Be aware of the scope of your market. It is a no-go when I bring up a profile and it is not local or the location is not even identified in the public profile.
Because you will most likely not know the buyer, use some common sense when offering something up for sale. Note that you have the option of door drop-off, pick-up or meet-up. Each has its risk. For drop-offs and meet-ups, bring a friend along. Don’t disclose your exact location until you can confirm that a person is an interested buyer. These guidelines are also appropriate for Craigslist. If you are tech-savvy, mount a camera inside your entry or a game camera that watches the front door.
Stick to cash. Avoid mailing. I have used Paypal on occasion, as well as Zelle. But in all cases, I am actually looking at the buyer. For Paypal and Zelle, the transaction immediately appears in your balance. No checks. No credit cards.
I have covered in another article the presence of Facebook impersonators. These are people pretending to be someone you know. In Marketplace, I have encountered the Phantom Buyers. These are Facebook accounts where the buyer is not really all there. I have found these folks a bit annoying because they will “troll” your account, repeatedly sending you messages. They are after something.
Like impersonators, phantom buyers will struggle to present a believable profile. Checking their profile, see if they show some signs of life. I have seen some buyers with no friends, or only two friends. While it is true that some people will be cautious about what they show to the public, most people will provide enough information to verify that they are legit. Facebook will usually indicate whether you have mutual friends. The least they should indicate is whether they live in your area.
Checking the Buyer’s Profile
Curiously, it is not straightforward to check on a buyer’s profile. I had to experiment clicking the picture (avatar) or the buyer’s name. Even then, I had to click something else to find what I was looking for. What is aggravating is that there is no consistent way to check on a buyer’s profile.
Clicking their name is one way of doing it. In some cases it comes up with a menu where you can “View Profile.” In other cases, it shows you nothing. In that case you may need to select “Open in Messenger.”
When Messenger opens, click on the buyer’s name again and their profile may come up, or you will get a screen like the one below. Clicking on the three dots will present “View Profile” as an option.
So forgive me if you are as confused as I am. Regardless, poking around should eventually produce some results.
Blocking Unwanted Messages
Using your experience hunting for a profile will invariably provide the option to “Open in Messenger” or “Message”. In both cases, note that on the right hand margin you have the option to block unwelcomed buyers. You can choose to Ignore Messages or you can even report abusive activity.
Sometimes a buyer may be legit, but the chatter is a bit too intrusive. You can choose to mute notifications (something ideal for Facebook smartphone users), or you can choose to simply leave the group.
Comparison to Craigslist
Regarding personal safety and phantom buyers, how does Craigslist compare? First, the risks are identical and the precautions are the same. But beyond that, you can set up Craigslist to guard your identity and screen out suspicious actors. As with Facebook, never disclose your location until you are in dialog with a prospective buyer. In Craigslist, I use only their e-mail relay service, so prospective buyers cannot later troll my e-mail address.
Craigslist is less annoying. When you get a bad actor in Facebook, it can be seriously disruptive. Never had that problem in Craigslist (maybe I am just lucky).