BBB Scam Alert: Sellers beware! Fake buyers want to hijack your phone number

Selling items on an online marketplace like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace can be an easy way to make extra money and get rid of things you don’t need. However, scammers are using a clever trick to target sellers and set up a phone number in their name. 

How the Scam Works 

You list an item and get an immediate response from a potential buyer. The “buyer” claims to be very interested in your item, but they want to make sure you are legitimate first. The scammer asks for your phone number, so they can text you a verification code. They instruct you to reply with the 6-digit code on the platform where your item is listed. 

Sounds reasonable, right? However, here’s what’s really happening. The scammer is setting up a Google Voice number linked to your phone number. If you send the verification code, the scammer will be able to complete the account set up. Then, the scammer can then use that phone number to conceal their identity. Or, if a scammer gets your Google Voice verification code and other information about you, they can pretend to be you and open new accounts in your name. 

One seller reported to BBB Scam Tracker about their experience listing and item on Facebook Marketplace and getting a response from an interested buyer.  

“He asked if he could call/text me,” the seller reported. “Then, I agreed and he said, ‘Ok first I want to verify you. If you’re real I will trust and meet you. Can I send the verification code to your phone number?’” At that point, the seller got suspicious and asked if it was a scam. He didn’t hear from the man again. 

How to Avoid Online Marketplace Scams 

Guard your personal information. You don’t need to give someone your phone number to make a sale on an online marketplace. Be sure you know who you are speaking with before you share it. Never give out your phone number in public social media posts. 

Watch out for red flags. Avoid making transactions with people who offer you deals that sound too good to be true (e.g. overpaying for an item you listed for sale) or people who pressure you to make a deal quickly. 

Understand marketplace policies. Most online marketplaces encourage you to NOT take transactions outside of the platform. If someone asks you to carry out transactions elsewhere, be wary. Understand how the platform you use verifies both sellers and buyers and stick to their guidelines when selling and buying items. 

For More Information 

Get more tips by reading the BBB Tip: Selling used items online. Read more about this scam on the Federal Trade Commission website.  

Report suspicious activity to marketplace platforms and to immediately. Even if you didn’t fall victim to the scam, your experience can help others to stay vigilant. 

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