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12 Things You Need to Know Before Buying Anything Through Facebook

Sure, you can shop where you share your vacation photos—as long as you know how to avoid getting ripped off when browsing Marketplace or clicking Facebook ads.

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Social equals shopping?

You can buy just about anything on social media—an air conditioner, dresser, car, cuckoo clock, shoes, or a Lion King snow globe. The prices can be irresistible. You might even find freebies when Facebook Marketplace sellers just want to unload. But buyer beware when shopping online. Facebook isn’t oblivious to the fact that shopping experiences can be less than ideal on its site. According to a Facebook spokesperson, the company surveyed people who purchased things from advertisers and found two major issues: ads that quote inaccurate shipping times or that misrepresent products. These are other Facebook scams you still keep falling for.

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Do some digging

What’s the word on the street? Find out what others are saying about the product before putting money down. Search for keywords like “product name + scam” on Google to check for red flags. “You can also check to see if the product, the company, or the owners have any negative reviews on ripoffreport.com, Yelp, and others,” says Syed Irfan Ajmal, growth marketing manager of ridester.com and digital entrepreneur who has helped clients run marketing campaigns on Facebook.

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Don’t fall for the hype

Be suspicious if you see too many gushing, positive reviews. “It is possible that some of the comments about a product are either paid for or are published by fake accounts,” says Ajmal. Michael Lai, CEO of consumer protection reviews site sitejabber.com, says Facebook has run into problems in the past for not properly vetting advertisers and their ads. “Many advertisers show product images that do not truly reflect the company’s actual products,” he says. “Also, it’s easy for an ad to seem legitimate if it is voted up by friends, even if those friends have never actually transacted with the business.” Brush up on these 16 tricks for spotting a fake online review.

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Be clear about shipping and delivery

Make sure the business conveys a clear shipping timeframe or delivery window before you buy anything from the site. You should also check to see if the business offers a way to track the item that you ordered to get a better sense of where it is coming from and when it will arrive. A Facebook spokesperson says it’s a red flag if the site only lists a “dispatch time,” which isn’t the same as shipping time.

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Learn where the company is based

“We get a lot of reviews from consumers who make purchases based on ads they see on Facebook and end up very dissatisfied with their experiences,” says Lai. “Most of the time, these purchases are from Chinese companies where the consumer runs into shipping, return, and quality issues.”

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Make sure the company has a website

Proceed with caution if a company advertising on social media has only a Facebook page. Not only should the company have its own website, but the URL should start with https” rather than “http.” “The S in ‘https’ stands for ‘secure’ and is only given to sites which purchase and install a system which encrypts all the information (such as your credit card info) that you submit at the website,” says Ajmal. Know, too, that a lot of sites look like they are based in the United States but often have an international address listed on their website. “Consumers tends to have more problems with product quality and shipping times with companies outside the United States,” says Lai. Watch out for these other 12 signs that a shopping site is fake—and is going to steal your money.

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Take advantage of one upside

“Because Marketplace is housed within Facebook, you are able to preview the social profiles of any sellers you are interested in messaging and buying from,” says consumer advocate Andrea Woroch. “This gives you that added trust and security factor.”

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Numbers count

Try to avoid having to return the item because the size isn’t what you expected. While it might be difficult to judge the item’s quality without seeing it in person, a Facebook spokesperson says you should make sure the business includes exact dimensions of the product you’re looking to purchase, as well as a size chart for reference that is relevant for buyers from different countries. Watch out for this common Facebook message that will give your computer a virus.

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Stay local if possible

“If you are considering buying an item advertised by an individual on Facebook, I would only consider doing business with a local seller where you can see the actual item in person before finalizing the purchase,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of consumerworld.org. “The only possible exception is doing business with someone you personally know well, who happens to be out of state.” If you are buying from an out-of-state seller, there is always the problem of which comes first: the payment or the merchandise. “Obviously, for the buyer, sending payment in advance of receiving the item is risky when you’re doing business with someone you don’t know,” says Dworsky. “Facebook is not like eBay with various buyer protection guarantees. The last thing you want to do is send money to an out-of-state seller and receive nothing in return.”

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Photos matter

Be wary of sites that advertise their products with blurry or computer-generated images, says a Facebook spokesperson. Make sure the site includes clear photos of the product, preferably with multiple images of each item. For example, if you’re eyeing a swimsuit on a site that you’re unfamiliar with, click through the product’s images for authentic pictures from different angles. Don’t fall for this viral social media hoax making the rounds.

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Look for sellers that provide upfront shipping costs

You don’t want to be charged extra for shipping after you already hit the purchase button on the website. The cost of shopping should be clear at checkout.

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Review the business’s return policy

Find out if the company has a refund policy offering an exchange or your money back. Look for good indicators, such as offering free return shipping labels. According to a Facebook spokesperson, it’s a warning sign if international companies offer “free refunds” but not free shipping – often the cost to return an internationally shipped item is more than the cost of the item itself. Make sure you know these other ways to stay safe when using Facebook Marketplace.