Seller dodges Facebook Marketplace scam, only to fall into another

Jake Larkin went from making $100 to losing $6,000.
Posted at 11:10 AM, Jul 25, 2023

A new homeowner turned to Facebook Marketplace to offload some furniture, but instead of making money, he nearly lost thousands.

"It wound up being me receiving $100 for a sofa to me losing $6,000 from a scammer," said Jake Larkin.

It was the same day Larkin closed on his new home. The previous owners left their furniture, so he listed it on Facebook Marketplace and right away was contacted by a buyer.

"Then I got an email through Zelle saying that in order for me to get the $100 in my account, I had to ask the [buyer] for $200 more, and then give them the $200 back and the remaining $100 would be in my account," Larkin explained.

The email, purportedly from "Zelle Pay," stated these steps were necessary because Larkin needed to upgrade to a business account.

That's when he turned to Zelle customer support for help.

"He [the representative] just basically agreed with me, you know, said it's a common problem and that happens all the time. And he said, this is what we have to do to resolve it, and just kept guiding me through steps trying to confuse me. And he did, he just really confused me," said Larkin. "By the time I got off the phone with them and logged in my account, that's when I noticed my account was almost empty and I just started freaking out. That's when I called Bank of America."

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The website falsely claimed to be Zelle customer support. Scripps News Baltimore called the phone number on the website and was immediately connected to someone claiming to be Zelle customer service. After we disclosed who was calling, the person hung up.

Fortunately for Larkin, Bank of America refunded his money.

Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of greater Maryland, said other victims haven't been as lucky, and they've seen an increase in scam reports on Facebook Marketplace where the buyer appears to be local.

"We always ask ourselves, why are Facebook accounts hacked? Why does that happen? And this is a great example," Barnett said. "I would be willing to bet the legitimate person who has that account, their Facebook page was hacked, and the scammer is now using that hacked profile to establish that legitimacy."

But in Larkin's situation, he encountered a second scam while trying to avoid the first.

"In that web browser search, he was directed to a fake website. That website is directing him to a phone number for customer support. It was a scammer," Barnett said. "The scammer, then in that conversation posing as a customer support person, actually got his bank information and with that information was able to wipe out the checking account very quickly."

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Larkin says he wishes he'd just trusted his gut.

"I just trusted these people too much," he said. "And the thing is, you get 100 scam calls a day on your phone, and you just kind of blow it off, but the thing is that I reached out to them. I researched their number, and I reached out to them. So just that fact alone, I was very trusting of them."

Experts say if a buyer offers to send you money before they've seen the item in-person, that's usually a red flag. 

While the emails sent to Larkin appeared to be from Zelle, the sender's address was actually a Gmail account. Zelle has their own email domain,, or contact would come directly from your bank.

A spokesperson with Early Warning Services (EWS), Zelle’s network operator, sent Scripps News Baltimore the following statement:

"We continually monitor impersonator websites, including fake customer service numbers, and will take appropriate action. I have forwarded your email to the right team to investigate. We encourage your viewers and all consumers to always refer to the official website of the organizations they are trying to connect with and contact the organization through the information listed on their official website."

Earlier this year, Scripps News Baltimore correspondent Mallory Sofastaii reported that EWS was revising its rules to better protect users from fraud schemes. However, EWS wouldn't provide any details.

If you've fallen victim to a scam involving a payment app, it's important to call your bank right away. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.

This story was originally published by Mallory Sofastaii at Scripps News Baltimore.