Experts warn of scammers on mobile payment apps

Scammers request money on popular cash apps like Venmo, Zelle

Experts say scammers are taking advantage of people who are using digital payment apps, like Venmo..

It’s easier than ever to digitally send and receive money right from your smartphone -- the trouble is, scammers know this, too.

With more people using digital payment apps like Venmo or Zelle, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning people about scams involving the apps.

“You get a random, out-of-the-blue message from a friend asking you to send them the money. Maybe they’re saying they ran out of money for groceries or they need gas, and they’re asking you for some money,” said Ashley Gibbard, marketing coordinator for the Better Business Bureau. “You’re thinking you’re helping a friend, but what’s really happening is the scammer is spoofing their account ... taking their profile picture, making a username that looks similar but isn’t quite right.”

The BBB says scam artists are taking profiles out of public feeds and spoofing them, or fraudulently recreating them. If you take a close look, you’ll see the account might look like a friend’s but there is a change or two to the username. Experts say this is just one of the many scams being reported among peer-to-peer cash apps like Venmo, Zelle, PayPal and Apple Pay.

The best advice to avoid being scammed is to always check with your friend before sending any money. Give them a call or text them asking if they requested money.

Another important tip: Keep all transactions private. Only use digital wallet apps with people you know, never strangers.

And be sure to check the specific app for security settings and use them if they are available.

“If you can, it’s best to link your credit card to your cash app instead of having it draw directly from your bank account, or directly from a debit card, or the money you have stored on that app itself ,” Gibbard said. “A lot of credit card companies can help you get your money back, whereas the app itself or your bank can’t necessarily help you get your money back.”

The BBB also recommends using a strong password on your phone or two-factor authentication, so if your phone is ever stolen, the cash apps cannot be used.

  • Some other useful tips to protect yourself from scams:
  • Be sure to check the account after a transaction to make sure the money transferred. Make sure you receive money before sending any items that were purchased from you.
  • Make sure you have the correct phone number for customer service. You don’t want to search online for it, instead go directly to a company’s website.

Learn more about digital cash app scams from the BBB right here.

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About the Author:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.