As inflation increases, more buyers are turning to online marketplaces to score bargains ahead of the holidays.
But authorities are urging users to stay vigilant about deals that are too good to be true, as police departments around the country are investigating fraud and robberies connected to these online purchases.
“Nine times out of ten, if you see a deal too good to be true, it is,” Cmdr. Rodney Hill of the Chicago Police Department told TODAY.
Here are ways to stay safe while shopping on peer-to-peer marketplaces like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace.
How are criminals using online marketplaces?
Hill said Chicago Police are investigating dozens of robberies over the past five months where suspects have allegedly used online listings to lure in victims.
“The offenders will contact them via cell phone and tell them to go to another location,” Hill said. “When they go to that area, multiple offenders will show up, display guns and take not only the money they have in their pockets, but sometimes vehicles, watches and wallets.”
Investigators in Houston are investigating an armed robbery in which officials said the suspects posed on Facebook Marketplace as potential car buyers, NBC affiliate KPRC reported.
Suspects in Detroit and Florida have also been accused of robbing people selling Air Jordans and iPhones. Experts say bad actors are most likely to target high-end items like designer bags, scooters, iPads and watches.
Authorities are also warning users to be aware of scammers, who create fake accounts or listings in an attempt to steal money.
What are common red flags?
- The seller refusing to meet in person or refusing to let you see the item in person before purchasing.
- The seller is selling the same item in multiple states.
- The seller is asking for gift cards instead of cash for payment.
- Buyers who push you to make a sale quickly or try to contact you outside of the app.
- The item is being offered for a price far lower than market value.
How can I stay safe while completing a purchase?
Hill said one way to add protection during a purchase is to use designated “safe exchange” locations, which in some cities can be inside of a police station.
“That’s what we want people to do, particularly now that the holidays are quickly approaching, we don’t want anyone to trade their safety for a great deal,” Hill said.
Facebook said in a statement to TODAY that it has “specialized detection tools” and “trained enforcement and review teams” working to remove bad actors from the platform.
The social media company also said it has a feature that allows users to set up a “meeting plan” within the app that can be shared with family and friends to monitor.
OfferUp also said it has a team of investigators who remove bad items and users from the site, and provides in-app tools for identity verification.
Experts add that using a credit card or PayPal option, as they offer fraud protection services, and meeting up during the day in a public location to pick up the item can also add protection.