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Scambusters: Facebook Marketplace, Trade Me and other online market scams – what to watch out for

Editor Written by Editor · 4 min read >


Facebook, Trade Me, banks and police are all warning Kiwis to be vigilant as scams disguised as online sales become more broad. However, loyal members want to know why marketplace websites are not doing more to protect them. In the second part of our seven-day series, we investigate the warning signs.

Facebook Marketplace is a playground for scammers and online marketplace scams are now so prominent that they can be found targeting people in every corner of New Zealand.

The scammers can be either sellers or buyers – trying to steal sums of money from the other, innocent party. According to a Netsafe-Global Anti-Scam Alliance survey in 2023, platforms like Gmail and Facebook are “primary hunting grounds”.

It’s not uncommon for the scammer – acting as a seller – to ask for a “deposit” and the rest to be paid on pickup for an item that doesn’t exist.

The sign that a Waipū property owner had to put on their fence after a scammer sent more than 30 people to the home after offering to sell them cheap cabins, trailers or containers.
The sign that a Waipū property owner had to put on their fence after a scammer sent more than 30 people to the home after offering to sell them cheap cabins, trailers or containers.

In Northland, a property owner was forced to erect a sign on their fence after numerous people unknowingly caught up in a Facebook Marketplace scam kept turning up looking for trailers, cabins, and containers they had paid for.

The scammer sent more than 30 people to the Waipū home, using a fake name and NZ driver’s licence to convince people he was legitimate.

The fake NZ driving licence an internet scammer - who uses the false name Luke Buswell - has used to convince people that he is not a scammer, before taking a deposit off them and failing to provide the goods they thought they had bought.
The fake NZ driving licence an internet scammer – who uses the false name Luke Buswell – has used to convince people that he is not a scammer, before taking a deposit off them and failing to provide the goods they thought they had bought.

“Luke Buswell doesn’t live here and is trying to SCAM you,” read the sign. “He is using our address and we have nothing to do with him. Don’t give him any $$. Sorry.”

A Waikato woman was charged in October after she set up fake profiles to defraud 23 people on Facebook Marketplace.

Her marketplace offending was not sophisticated, but she managed to get away with it for 12 months.

Victims would agree to a sale price and deposit the money in her bank account, but she would not send them, and instead blocked them.

Meta, the company that owns and operates Facebook, did not respond to the Herald’s questions about Facebook Marketplace scams.

In a previous story, Meta referred the Herald to website material that outlined online safety tips and said the platform “invests substantial resources in detecting and preventing fraudulent activity on the platform”.

“We remove content that purposefully deceives, wilfully misrepresents, or otherwise defrauds or exploits others for money or property”.

The traditional online marketplace scam often involves a victim buying and paying for an item, but the item never arrives – but they can also target sellers.

An example of this that is popular on Facebook Marketplace and Trade Me is the “freight-forwarding scam”.

That is when scammers buy an item and claim to live in a location that makes it difficult for them to collect the item, so they tell the seller they will have a courier collect the item and pay them, and all the seller has to do is “pay insurance” before they pick it up.

Delivery service TNT has issued multiple warnings against these fraudulent communications typically concerning requests for advance transfers of money to pay for goods ordered on the internet.

A pensionerwas scammed out of $600 when he purchased a camera on Trade Me in November last year.

“The person who sold it appeared to have a genuine account and a good record.”

Two days later, the trader provided bank details to him by email to pay for the camera, as per Trade Me’s payment options.

A common online marketplace scam is when a buyer [who is a scammer] will request that the seller pays "insurance" for delivery.
A common online marketplace scam is when a buyer [who is a scammer] will request that the seller pays “insurance” for delivery.

The seller then stopped replying, so the buyer contacted Trade Me to ask for help, and three days later they told him to file a report with the police and contact their bank.

“We believe that the seller’s account has been accessed by a third party however we do have information to provide to the police regarding this,” Trade Me told the victim.

“Due to privacy reasons, we are very limited in the information we can share regarding other members however I can confirm that we have taken appropriate action against the seller’s account.”

Trade Me apologised that the customer had a “negative experience with this individual” but the pensioner felt that the online site could have taken more responsibility.

“[Trade Me] said you should use Ping, well, paying with Ping wasn’t an option on this particular sale.

“The performance of Kiwibank and Trade Me really disappointed me because it wasn’t them that actually alerted me, it was ANZ.”

ANZ told the pensioner his money had been sent overseas. Communications between Kiwibank and the victim showed that Kiwibank declined to reimburse them.

“I am surprised and disappointed that a Trade Me payment to a cross-border system account did not raise an alert within Kiwibank.”

Police also would not investigate the case, saying it wasn’t a priority.

“We do undertake to investigate Facebook/Trade Me incidents if the offender is a recidivist. At this time there are no other reports citing the account number provided.

“Should we receive other reports in the future we may revisit your complaint,” police told the victim over email.

The pensioner said: “We’re retired and this was a little present to ourselves, for interacting with the family and leaving memories. It just left us with a sour taste in the mouth,” the pensioner said.

Trade Me warns that clicking a button in a "phishing" email, like in this image, could send the user to a fake website.
Trade Me warns that clicking a button in a “phishing” email, like in this image, could send the user to a fake website.

Trade Me refused to comment on specific scam cases.

Trade Me policy and compliance manager James Ryan said scammers were often very convincing so it was important to be vigilant.

“We’re always disappointed to hear when someone has a bad experience on our site, however, we do have limited options once funds have been handed over to a scammer.”

Ryan said Trade Me has dedicated initiatives, advanced systems and processes in place to prevent scams.

“We can’t share specific details because we don’t want to give scammers a heads-up on what we’re doing.

“A top tip for all websites is to use a strong unique password and regularly update it, particularly if you haven’t in a while.

“We strongly recommend members use Ping or Afterpay as a payment method. This means our Buyer Protection policy applies and the payment happens through our site so we can track it, and assist should anything go wrong.

“We have a Trust and Safety team right here in Aotearoa who work seven days a week to keep our site safe and if we have any concerns about any member’s activity onsite we take immediate action.

“This can include banning the member from the site and warning any members they have purchased from, or been in contact with.”

How to get help

Internal Affairs anti-spam and scam awareness: Forward text scams for free to 7726

Cert NZ: Individuals, small businesses can report a cyber attack, get advice: www.cert.govt.nz

Financial Markets Authority: https://www.fma.govt.nz/scams/

Privacy Commissioner: Complaints about privacy breaches. 0800 803 909 or privacy.org.nz/your-rights/making-a-complaint/

ID fraud: Internal Affairs advice: dia.govt.nz/Identity – Are-you-a-victim-of-identity-theft

IDCare: Assistance freezing your credit record, regaining control of your online identity after an ID theft: idcare.org

Netsafe: Report online bullying, hate speech, dangerous content: netsafe.org.nz

NZ Police: Report cybercrime online scams, online child safety issues: police.govt.nz/advice-services/cybercrime-and-internet

If you believe you are or have been the victim of fraud, contact police at 105.police.govt.nz, or call police on 105.

  • Scambusters is an independent editorial series brought to you with the support of the Banking Association.



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