Venmo scams: How to protect yourself
March 21, 2022
Payment-app Venmo makes it easy to send money to friends or family members. Say you're at a restaurant and you want to split the bill. Your friend can pay for the entire meal while you send your half of the payment to your friend through your Venmo app.
Or maybe you and a co-worker need to split a cab ride. Again, you can use Venmo to send your fellow worker your half of the fare.
There is a catch, though: Venmo has become an attractive tool for cybercriminals and other scammers hoping to separate you from your money or steal your personal and financial information.
Hackers have discovered that they can use Venmo to trick users into providing their bank account information or Social Security numbers.
Scammers have also used Venmo to make fraudulent purchases, leaving sellers without the product they were selling or any of the dollars they thought they were making from the sale.
Fortunately, there are ways to help protect yourself against Venmo scams. It all starts with learning what these scams are and how they operate.
Examples of recent Venmo scams
Scammers are always quick to use the latest technology to trick victims out of their money. And that’s proven true with Venmo, too.
For example, in February of 2022, Snopes reviewed a scam email that promised recipients a $1,000 Venmo gift card if they filled out a survey. The problem? The email seems to be a scam. There is no gift card.
In another scam reported by ABC WCVB in Needham, Massachusetts, a victim was using Venmo to sell a mirror last year for $30. A buyer sent her $900 instead, and the payment was labeled "kitchen set."
The buyer told the victim that this was a simple mix-up. The victim sent the payment back. But a few weeks later, Venmo froze her account, took out the money she had in it — about $375 — and told the victim that she owed her another $525.
What happened? Venmo said that someone filed a credit card dispute over the $900 payment sent to the victim.
This isn't an unusual scam: Con artists often use stolen credit cards or bank account numbers to make a Venmo payment. They can then claim that these payments are a mistake, and when the payment is refunded, they take their money and disappear before victims dispute the scam.
Sometimes, Venmo scams even happen in person.
That happened recently in Orlando, Florida, when a woman walking her dog was approached by a young boy her told her that her phone was dead and he couldn't find his family or friends. He asked to borrow her phone to contact them.
The boy faked a phone call, and later, the victim found that the boy had quickly used Venmo to make two transfers, one for $1,800, another for $2,000.
The most popular Venmo scams
Here’s a look at some common Venmo scams.
Venmo texting scam
This Venmo scam uses text messages to trick you.
How it works: One of the more recent Venmo scams involves a trick known as smishing, a variation of the standard phishing scam.
In phishing attacks, criminals use email messages to trick people into providing their financial and personal information, such as their Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, or credit card information. In smishing scams, criminals do the same thing, only through text messages.
Scammers send text messages to consumers, duplicating the color scheme and fonts that Venmo uses, saying that their Venmo accounts will be charged if they don't first click on a link in the text message. They might also say that they need to verify these accounts, and that recipients must click on a link to keep their accounts open.
Once recipients click, the consumer is taken to a website that asks for their credit card number and other personal and financial information.
The scammers then may sell this information on the dark web or use your bank account information to make fraudulent purchases elsewhere.
How to protect yourself: There are some easy ways to help protect yourself against these scams. Never click on links in emails or text messages that claim to be sent to you from a bank, financial services provider, or other company. These are often scams.
If you are concerned that your Venmo account might be charged or locked, contact Venmo’s customer service number instead of responding to whatever text you’ve received. If you are about to be charged, Venmo will be able to tell you on the phone.
Don’t ever provide your credit card information, bank account information, Social Security number, or other personal information to Venmo or any other company asking for it in an email or text. Companies won’t ask for this sensitive information in an email or text. Again, if you are worried that the text message is legit, call the company instead. Don’t just trust an email or text.
The fake-sale scam
Abide by Venmo’s rules to help avoid the fake-sale scam.
How it works: Venmo says that its service is only supposed to be used to send cash between friends and family members and isn't supposed to be used to conduct business. That doesn't mean, though, that people don't accept Venmo payments when selling items online.
This can lead to another popular Venmo scam. Say you're selling books online. Someone orders a shipment and sends payment through Venmo. You send the books off. The buyer then contacts Venmo and asks that the payment be reversed. If Venmo does this, the money that was deposited in your account disappears and the books you were selling are gone. You're out of a sale and your merchandise has been stolen.
In one real-life example, a seller sent a limited-edition version of Yeezy Zebra gym shoes after receiving a payment of $13,500. Unfortunately, the buyer was a scammer who reversed the Venmo payment after the seller had sent off the expensive shoes. This means the seller basically gave away these coveted sneakers for nothing.
The worst part? You probably won't get financial relief from Venmo because the service’s user agreement specifically states that it’s for “payments between friends and people who trust each other.” The user agreement also states that there is no protection for buyers or sellers using Venmo.
How to protect yourself: Don't use Venmo to accept payments when conducting business or selling items online to people you don’t know. Only use the service as Venmo says it’s supposed to be used, to send money to family members, friends or other trusted sources. Worth noting: It’s OK to use the app to pay certain merchants authorized by Venmo.
The in-person Venmo scam: This Venmo scam involves an in-person con.
How it works: Most scams involving peer-to-peer payment apps such as Venmo occur online. But there is one scam that requires in-person contact.
According to an online report from ABC Action News in Tampa Bay, Florida, a scammer often approaches victims and asks to use their phone to make a quick call. They'll often say that their own phone's battery is dead or that they forgot it at home.
The scammers pretend to make a call, but then say that the person they were calling didn't pick up. They'll then ask if they can send a text with your phone. But instead of texting, they'll open their victim's Venmo app and transfer funds out of it and into their own accounts.
How to protect yourself: The easiest way to protect yourself against this scam? Don't let people use your phone. If someone asks to make a call with your phone, ask for the number and make the call yourself.
Or if someone does ask to use your phone to text someone, have them dictate their message to you. You can then enter the text message yourself. This prevents scammers from accessing your device and your Venmo account.
What to do if you’re a victim of a Venmo scam
If you are the victim of a Venmo scam, your ability to recover any lost merchandise or money may be limited.
That’s because Venmo does not provide protection to buyers and sellers. The company says that the service is to be used only between friends and people who trust each other and certain merchants authorized by Venmo.
If you sell a bookcase or computer equipment to a stranger and are stiffed? You might not get financial relief from Venmo.
Venmo, on its website, does say you can report unauthorized transactions to email@example.com or by calling 1-855-812-4430.
You can take steps, though, if someone has stolen your personal and financial information.
- Order copies of your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled to one free copy each year of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (During the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit bureaus have provided free reports to consumers once every week. As of the writing of this story, this has been extended until April of 2022.) Check these reports for any unusual activity, including new credit card accounts or loans. If you don’t recognize these accounts, it could be a sign that someone has used your information to open financial accounts in your name. Contact the credit bureaus if you see any suspicious or unfamiliar activity on your reports.
- Check your credit card statements. Look for any unusual transactions. If you see transactions you haven’t made, contact your credit card provider.
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission here. The FTC website also offers a recovery plan.
What is Venmo?
Venmo is a payment app available for iPhones and Android phones that people can use to send money to and receive dollars from family members and friends.
What is Venmo not supposed to be used for?
Venmo says that customers should only use Venmo to send money to people they know and trust. They should not use the service to sell items online or conduct business with strangers.
Is Venmo safe?
As with all payment apps, there is a risk that scammers can use Venmo to steal your money or personal information. They might trick you into providing your personal and financial information that they can then sell on the dark web or use to open credit card accounts or take out loans in your name. Con artists might also use Venmo to pay for items you are selling and then dispute the payments they’ve made. If this happens, you might send away your merchandise and receive no payment for it.
What can you do if you fall for a Venmo scam?
You can report unauthorized transactions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-855-812-4430.
What can you do to protect yourself from Venmo scams?
Never click on links in emails or texts supposedly sent by Venmo. Never do business with strangers through the Venmo app. And never provide anyone – even if this person says he or she is with Venmo – your personal or financial information through email or text.
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