A massive scam has been exposed on Facebook, and what the victims have learned should serve as a warning to anyone who does one common activity on social media. Millions of Americans are doing something frequently daily and don’t even know they have had themselves a target until they find out the hard way after realizing they’re out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars after it’s too late. Here’s what you need to check for right now to see if you’ve been victimized or to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Facebook currently has no major safeguards in place to protect buyers from transactions made on their site. One woman in Cleveland used that fact to steal around $200,000 from mothers looking for deals on baby products.
Unfortunately, ripoffs involving private transactions on Facebook are becoming more common. “Garage sale” style groups, usually based in a particular city, are popping up by the hundreds on the web site. Other selling groups, catering to particular products like sneakers or baby products, have become extremely popular. When sellers offer to meet face-to-face, sellers have some degree of protection from being ripped off. Most, however, prefer to mail products, which can be a problem.
There are only a handful of precautions online buyers can take to avoid a Facebook scam. We will list those below.
Hundreds of moms in dozens of cities say they’ve been scammed out of more than $200,000 by a 23-year-old woman living in public housing in Cleveland.
The women all joined a mom’s group on Facebook called “Zee’s Place,” expecting bargain prices on everything from baby car seats to diapers and toys. Zee’s Place was reportedly run by Zienup Sbeih, who told the Facebook group she was able to offer great deals thanks to donations and grants.
In most cases, the goods never got delivered.
The Cleveland 19 Investigative Team tracked hundreds of alleged victims to 34 different states and Canada. Despite the complaints, Zee’s Place is still operating and accepting orders.
The Cleveland Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation are currently conducting a joint investigation of Sbeih.
Laura Helm, a mom from Texas, said she spend $1,300 dollars buying stuff from Zee’s Place, but only received about $200 worth of goods.
“It didn’t seem like a scam at first, but then it all just kind of fell apart,” Helm said.
Zee’s Place would often demand payment in the form of electronic gift cards, from retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target.
“I think what she does is she starts by doing these deals, and then she’ll send you one thing or two things, or you see people receiving things. After that she says, ‘The shipping people are having a hard time,’ or ‘I’m behind.’ She always had an excuse,” said Ohio mom Shayla Maldonado. She said she’s out $1,100 from the alleged Zee’s Place Facebook scam.
BUYER BEWARE – HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
While buying on Facebook is never a guaranteed safe bet, there are several things a buyer should know.
- THE OLD RULE STILL APPLIES: IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT USUALLY IS. Many of those ripped off by Zee’s Place were suspicious of the great deals. In the world of the internet, there are far too many reliable shopping options offering competitive sales, so don’t risk your money on an unproven seller with a fantastic deal.
- MANY FACEBOOK SCAM ARTISTS PLAY A LONG GAME. Zee’s Place, like many scam sellers, follow through on some initial deals to build trust. However, they do so to set up buyers for a larger purchase that they never intend to follow through on. Beware sellers who follow up with you offering more deals on a bigger purchase.
- PAYPAL OFFERS NO TRUE BUYER PROTECTION. Facebook scam artists like to use Paypal, because disputes rarely go the way of the victim. If a buyer asks you to use a “Friends and Family” payment option (using the excuse of avoiding Paypal fees), refuse and do not do business with them. Paypal does offer limited buyer protection with standard transactions, but the “Friends and Family” option offers no protection. It is meant for money transfers through trusted individuals, and not for sales.
- NEVER PAY WITH ELECTRONIC GIFT CARDS. Many Facebook scam artists ask for electronic gift cards, because transactions are untraceable and no refunds are given. This is a big red flag.
- IF YOU USE A CREDIT CARD TO PAY, KNOW THE POLICY FOR REFUNDS. For larger purchases, call your credit card company and ask what your options would be if your transaction goes sour. Policies vary wildly between credit card providers, so never assume they will look out for you.