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How to avoid mobile payment app scams on Zelle, Venmo, Cash App

More Americans are using mobile payment apps like Zelle and Venmo to send money — and scammers are taking notice. How to avoid a mobile payment app scam.

Millions of Americans use peer-to-peer mobile payment apps like Zelle, Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal to make online purchases, send money to family and friends, or split bills with roommates. A 2020 NerdWallet survey found that 94% of Millennials ages 24-39 use mobile payment apps, compared to 87% of Gen Zers, 88% of Gen Xers, and 65% of Baby Boomers.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Americans looking for secure contactless payment options have become more comfortable with mobile payment apps since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the agency warns that scammers have taken advantage of the quick and sometimes anonymous access to cash that these mobile payment apps often offer.

Here are six VERIFIED ways to spot and avoid mobile payment app scams.

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The most common mobile payment app scams

Many peer-to-peer mobile payment apps make it easy for users to send money quickly. According to Capital One, this speed can give scammers the opportunity to take advantage of people who aren’t careful.

The American Bankers Association and Capital One share some of the most common mobile payment app scams on their websites, including the following scenarios:

  • “Suspicious activity” scam: Scammers posing as your bank may call or text you to notify you of “suspicious activity” on your account and instruct you to send money to yourself or to the “bank’s address” to obtain a reverse the transaction or check that the account isn’t blocked – but you’re actually sending money to the scammer and not to your bank.
  • Fraud Alert Fraud: A scammer may come forward claiming to represent your bank’s fraud department and asking you to verify personal information such as your username and password, your credit or debit card information, or your social security number in order to create a new account with your information, steal your identity and gain access to your other personal accounts.
  • Fake Seller Scam: Scammers posing as legitimate businesses can request mobile payment for a product or service. But once they receive your money, you never get what you paid for and they disappear.
  • “Accidental” payment fraud: A scammer “accidentally” sends you money through a mobile payment app with a stolen credit card and asks you to send the money back. However, this payment is usually reversed if the credit card is reported stolen. If you send funds “back” to the scammer, you will end up losing money.
  • Fake Emergency Scam: Scammers can also ask to borrow your phone for an “emergency,” but instead they can make financial transfers through your mobile payment apps and bank accounts.
  • Scam at work from home: You accept a home office and the company sends you a check to deposit and then asks you to send all or part of the money to someone else through a mobile payment app. Don’t deposit the check — the company is a scam and the check will bounce, leaving you on the hook for the amount of the fake deposit, says the American Bankers Association.

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Ways to avoid a mobile payment app scam

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from falling victim to a mobile payment app scam. Capital One,zelle, Venmo and Cash App all offer some tips that can help you no matter what mobile payments app you use:

  • Pay securely: Many mobile payment apps don’t let you cancel a transaction after sending it to another user. Therefore, avoid sending or requesting money to people you don’t know and trust.
  • Take your time: Try not to rush when using a mobile payment app to send money. If someone is urging you to act fast, it could be a red flag, says Capital One.
  • Treat payments like cash: Money moves fast when you use mobile payment apps. It’s always a good idea to double check that you have the correct information to ensure your money goes to the right place before hitting submit.
  • Use your security settings: Mobile payment apps have measures like two-factor authentication to protect your account. Activate them.
  • Let your bank help you: Use fraud alerts if your bank offers them. It’s also important to keep an eye on your account itself. Capital One says you should contact your bank immediately if you suspect something is wrong.
  • Keep your personal information private: Avoid sharing things like your address, phone number, and other personal information with people you don’t know.

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Report a mobile payment app scam

If you think you’ve sent money to a scammer or find an unauthorized payment in your account, you can contact the mobile payment app provider to file a report as follows:

  • Cell: If you are enrolled in Zelle with a participating financial institution, contact the customer support team immediately to report a scam. If you are signed in through the cell app, you can call 1-844-428-8542 or use the online contact form.
  • Cash app: Cash App recommends chatting through their app for the fastest service. To do this, open the app, go to your profile and select Support. You can also get help at cash.app/help or by calling 1-800-969-1940.
  • Venmo: Venmo also recommends chatting through their app for the fastest service. To do this, open the app, go to your profile and select Help. You can also email Venmo using the contact form or call them at 1-855-812-4430.
  • PayPal: File an online report through PayPal’s Resolution Center or call PayPal at 1-888-221-1161.

You can also report mobile payment fraud to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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