Venmo scams: How to protect yourself
Oct. 15, 2019
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 to a meeting. Again, you can use Venmo to send your fellow worker your half of the fare.
There is a catch, though: Venmo has proved to be an attractive tool for cybercriminals 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.
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.
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
Are there 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, contact Venmo’s customer service number instead. 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 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 the 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 Venno. 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 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 the items 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. Only use the service as Venmo says it’s supposed to be used, as a way 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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. 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 infromation 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.
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