Outsmarting P2P Mobile Payment App Scammers

The scammers are doing their best to pick your wallet again. This time the fraudsters are using peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile payment apps including Venmo, Zelle, and Cash apps to steal our money.

Digital payment methods are not all created equal for fraud prevention and protection. P2P apps are especially risky when not used for their designed purpose. These apps are created by third-party vendors (not banks) to simplify financial transactions between people who know and trust each other.

These apps are helpful tools when cautiously used. For example, when splitting the dinner bill with your sister or paying your coworker for your boss' birthday gift. Money is transferred quickly and easily without requiring cash. Once funds are transferred using a P2P app, it is gone...forever.
"If you're careful and you know who you're sending money to, these are great tools. If you're not comfortable giving this person a hundred-dollar bill, then don't P2P $100 to him." -Paul Benda, Risk and Cybersecurity at the American Bankers Association
Most P2P apps specifically warn against using their app to purchase goods or services, but scammers use convincing tactics to make you believe otherwise. Scam artists use social media and professional-looking websites selling everything from pets to retail goods.
Unfortunately, the dog scam is common and one we have seen first hand. The bad guys ask you to secure your puppy choice with a deposit sent via a P2P app. Unfortunately, some of our customers never saw their puppy or money again.
Be suspicious of any business that only accepts P2P app payments.
Remember, P2P apps are for paying individuals you know or trust, not for making a deposit for a pet, vehicle, or paying for a new sweater. Paying for goods and services should be done through a secure website payment page. Look for the padlock before the web address if you are on a mobile device and look for the "s" after the "http" in the web address if you are on a computer.
Take these steps to avoid being scammed when using payment apps:
(From the Federal Communication Commission)
  • For in-person transactions, look into contactless payment options built into your mobile device or your existing credit cards.
  • Review the app's fraud protection policies and understand whether and how you can recover funds if a problem arises. Save a customer service number in your contacts.
  • Link your money transfer app to a credit card rather than a debit card or your bank account. A credit card provides added protection in case you do not receive the goods or services that you have purchased.
  • Be wary of any business that only accepts P2P payment apps or pre-paid debit card payments. Consider this a red flag.
  • Always verify the recipient's information before making any payment.
  • Never send P2P payments to - or accept payments from - someone you don't know.
  • Always create strong, unique passwords and disable automatic logins.
  • Never provide sensitive personal information over the phone. Legitimate customer support operations will not ask for your bank account information.
  • If you get an unexpected inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.