Venmo has made transferring cash more convenient than ever, but some scammers are using the app to steal your money.
These days, you can pay for anything without using your wallet—and money-transfer apps like Venmo have especially come in handy as people ditch cash post-coronavirus. But the convenience of using Venmo also comes with a fair share of risk. To protect your financial and personal information, watch out for these common Venmo scams that could leave you and your money vulnerable to criminals. Once you’re up to speed, find out how to protect yourself from phone call scams, how to avoid online scams, and what to do if you receive this iPhone virus warning, too.
Is Venmo safe?
Rest assured that “Venmo is considered safe as long as the proper precautions are taken,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. In addition to encrypting your financial information and transactions, Venmo offers other layers of security like PIN numbers and multifactor authentication that make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access your account. Velasquez recommends activating each of these security features to keep your info safe.
However, there is one security downside to using Venmo: Unlike credit or debit cards, which offer financial protection for consumers in the case of fraud or theft, digital payment services like Venmo treat money more like cash. Once the money has been transferred to a scammer, it is almost impossible to recoup the loss. FYI, other contactless payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay are also vulnerable to scams.
Common Venmo scams to look out for
The first thing you need to know: Scammers are sneaky and often very convincing. But their scams also tend to have some common themes, which can make them easier to identify. Here are some of the most prevalent.
Offering to increase your money
In one typical Venmo scam, a criminal might ask you to send them a small amount of money in order to receive a larger amount in return. For example, they may promise that if you send them $200, you will get $2,000 back in one week. This scam goes by several different names, including a money circle, cash wheel, or pyramid scheme. Whether the request comes from a stranger or someone you know, it’s likely that you will never receive any money back, according to Adam Gordon, a digital security expert at ITProTV. “Common sense wins the day,” Gordon says. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Here’s how to spot fake donation scams, too.
Accidentally sending you money
Receiving a random Venmo transfer is not always an honest mistake. In fact, scammers use this “high-tech twist on a classic con” to trick you into giving them money, according to the Better Business Bureau. The fraudster might use a stolen credit card or bank account number to transfer several hundred dollars to your account, then send you a message saying: “Oops! Can you send that back?” The money that you send goes to the criminal’s personal card, and the stolen funds are removed from your account.
Requesting money with a fake link
Beware of unsolicited emails or text messages that look like notifications from Venmo, Velasquez says. These scams, also known as “smishing,” may con you into clicking a disguised link inside a text message. While the text may appear to come from a legitimate Venmo account, the link will actually take you to a fake Venmo log-in page that steals your user data and financial information when you try to log in, according to Gordon.
Selling an item to a stranger
When you sell something on Venmo, always verify the person you are selling to. Con artists may you ask to provide the item or service without paying you legitimate funds. To convince you the funds are in your account, they could send you screenshots of fake emails, pay you with stolen credit cards or bank information, or tell you they have sent you a payment that will only reach your Venmo account when you ship the item and upload the shipping information.
Buying an item from a stranger
Another common scam uses popular or hard-to-find items like concert tickets or electronics to lure victims. The scammer may ask you to pay them via Venmo and then never send the item. Although they may share fake shipping information or screenshots to make it appear as though the item was sent, in reality, they have already taken off with your money. It’s best to use Venmo only when exchanging money with people you trust, especially for the times when you should never use your credit card for payment.
Pretending to be your friend and requesting money
Before accepting a payment request from a friend, take a close look at their profile. Some scammers create profiles that impersonate real people—and even going so far as to steal their usernames and profile pictures. With information found on the user’s public feed, these impostors will send requests to individuals who have sent or received money from the user in the past. Trust your gut and decline the request if it feels unusual or pushy, Gordon says.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
If you think you are a victim of a Venmo scam, you should immediately report the incident to Venmo Security Support and cut off contact with the scammer, according to Christian Lees, an IT security expert at Vigilante. Velasquez suggests alerting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) if you lost money. You should also take steps to change your Venmo account password and protect your other accounts, including choosing a unique passphrase with 12 characters or more, using a different password for each account, and saving all passwords on a password manager. Invest in one of the most secure phones to prevent security problems going forward.
How to prevent getting scammed on Venmo
Experts recommend protecting yourself against future Venmo scams by keeping your transactions between people you know and trust. If you receive an unusual request from someone you know, you can always double-check their profile or reach out to them personally to confirm the request is legitimate, Gordon says. He also suggests never clicking links in text messages or emails sent to you out of the blue. “These links are usually scams,” he says. “If you believe there is an issue with your account, contact Venmo’s customer service—but not via the link in the message.” Also avoid these mistakes that will make your phone an easy target for hackers, no matter which payment app you use.