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When a Detroit woman saw a post offering Morgan Wallen tickets on social media, she couldn’t resist the deal. The seller said she’d bought them for her daughter’s birthday, but that she couldn’t use them.
The buyer did exactly what we’ve all been advised to do. She clicked over and took a look at the seller’s profile. It looked legitimate.
She sent the money and waited. The seller claimed she was having trouble sending the tickets, then vanished. The tickets never came.
Worse, within days, the buyer’s bank account was emptied by the seller. Apparently, the scammer had hacked her Venmo account, accessed her debit card information, and found their way into her bank account from there.
So, what is this scam? And, how can you avoid it?
What are Venmo Scams?
You’ve likely heard of Venmo, even if you don’t use it. It’s the second most popular peer-to-peer payment app (behind PayPal).
Scammers have heard of Venmo, too.
If you use Venmo, chances are you’ve worried about security. One survey found that security is a top concern among peer-to-peer payment users. As convenient as these apps have become, we all worry a little that our money isn’t completely safe.
It doesn’t help that every week or two, we hear news of someone being scammed. Just when we think we’ve done everything we can to protect ourselves, we learn about a new type of fraud or security breach.
Overall, a Venmo scam is simply some type of fraud involving this popular payment platform. But there are multiple ways scammers use Venmo for nefarious financial gain. We’ll go through the most common Venmo scams to help keep you safe.
Types of Venmo Scams
Credit: Sora Shimazaki
Fake Venmo Representative
What is it? If your credit card is compromised, you’ll often get a call from your bank. So, it would “make sense” that a Venmo representative might reach out about Venmo fraud, however this is actually a common scam. Someone messages or calls you, claiming to be from Venmo. The person says there are problems with your account, then asks you to verify it. Often they’ll ask for your name, username, and password, along with the code you’re sent during two-factor authentication, which is all they need to hack your account.
How to spot it: A Venmo representative will not ask for a multi-factor authentication code. That code should always be kept secure.
How to avoid it: If someone contacts you, claiming to be from Venmo, don’t provide any information. Instead, jot down the information the person offers and contact Venmo using their customer service channels.
What is it? With this scam, someone posts a high-demand item like tickets for a Taylor Swift concert, or rare Beatles memorabilia. The deal seems almost too good to be true, and you know if you don’t act quickly, it will be gone. However, when you send the money, the item never makes its way to you.
How to spot it: Urgency is the real “tell” in these situations. Anyone rushing you to pay might be up to no good. It doesn’t help if the person is making a truly tempting offer, like a rare collectible you’ve wanted to get your hands on for years.
How to avoid it: The urgency of the situation should be a sign you’re being scammed. If you must buy in a situation like this, insist on the item being shipped using tracking, and make sure it qualifies for payment protection. That means ensuring the payment is tied to a legitimate profile. Verified businesses will show up under “Businesses” in Venmo searches. If you’re selling the item, you should also check the profile of the buyer before shipping.
Money Making Scams
What is it? “I have a great offer for you.” We’ve all had a friend make that type of proposal over the years. Maybe it’s an investment opportunity. It could be some new business. Whatever the case, you’ll need to put some money down first. This type of Venmo scam has you using Venmo to send money to unlock this supposed great opportunity.
How to spot it: This type of scam can seem overly “salesy.” The biggest sign is that it seems too good to be true. The odds you’re going to make a lot of money on one of these “get rich quick” schemes are fairly slim.
How to avoid it: Don’t give money to anyone based on promises.
Fake Prize Scams
What is it? We all like prizes and awards. It’s always good news to hear we’ve won something. That’s exactly the emotion scammers prey on when they message us, announcing we’ve won. To claim your prize, though, you’ll need to log into your Venmo account. When you click on the link, you think you’re on Venmo’s site, but really, you’re on a page designed to grab your login information.
How to spot it: Any prize or reward that needs login credentials or payment information is a scam. You shouldn’t have to provide this sort of data or log into one of your personal sites to claim a prize you’ve won.
How to avoid it: Avoid clicking on any links in emails unless you’re sure they’re legitimate.
What is it? You receive money out of the blue, and at the same time, a stranger messages you to say that it was an accidental payment. You just need to send the money back, but could you send it to a different account? The original payment was made using a stolen card or hacked account.
How to spot it: The request to refund a payment to a separate account should always be a red flag. If someone did accidentally send money to you, refunding it to that account should be fine.
How to avoid it: Never refund money to a separate account. If you receive a suspicious payment, along with a message from a stranger about it, contact Venmo customer support and let them investigate.
What is it? “Venmo wants your input.” If you just take a quick survey, you’ll even earn a little quick cash. All you have to do is click on the link to get started. The link takes you to a fake Venmo landing page, where your login credentials are stolen.
How to spot it: As with prize emails, the need to log into a payment account to complete some activity should be a red flag.
How to avoid it: Avoid clicking on links in emails. If you suspect the message may be from Venmo, contact customer service to verify it.
Suspicious Activity Scams
What is it? You want your financial accounts to stay safe. So when you receive an email saying suspicious activity has been detected, of course you want to do something about it. This scam encourages you to click on a link to log into Venmo. The screen captures your information, and a scammer then has your username and password.
How to spot it: Often, these messages don’t address you by name. Venmo uses your first name, last name, or business name when contacting you. If it has a generic greeting, it’s suspicious.
How to avoid it: If you receive a message about suspicious activity, log into Venmo separately and check. Contact customer service to make sure all is okay with your account and alert them to the fraud attempt.
Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko
What is it? Venmo is designed for friends to pay each other. That’s why this scam can be convincing. With an impersonation scam, someone poses as a friend, colleague, or relative on Venmo, reaching out to you to ask for money. All you have to do is send a little cash to help out.
How to spot it: The photo and username might look legitimate, but when you click over, you can see that the person has a limited transaction history. The wording might also be out of character for the person.
How to avoid it: Reach out to the contact on a different platform and ask. Profiles can be easily cloned, so always double-check a person’s phone number before sending money through Venmo.
What is it? When you’re in love, you want to help the other person. This scam takes advantage of that kindness. Someone you meet online wants to meet in person. You may be just as eager to meet in person, too. So when your new love interest asks for help with travel expenses, you eagerly Venmo some money, only to find that trip never materializes.
How to spot it: Photos can be faked, so it’s easy for someone to pretend to be something they aren’t. Even if you’ve videoconference with the person, you still can’t be sure your romantic interest will actually travel to see you. Anyone asking for money early in a relationship should be viewed with skepticism.
How to avoid it: Always be cautious when sending money to someone you’ve never met in person. Even if you’ve met a person, use caution if you can’t vouch for the person’s trustworthiness.
What is it? You’ve sold an item, but the person needs to send you a personal check. You agree, but when the check arrives, the amount is for more than the selling price. Free money? When you contact the buyer, you’re told that the overpayment was an accident. Can you send the overage back? When you do, you find out the check was bad. This same overpayment scam can be done using Venmo or another payment method, too, but in those cases, the funds were sent using a hacked account or a stolen credit card.
How to spot it: The goal of this scam is to earn money using a stolen card or hacked account. Any request to refund money using a different payment method should be viewed with skepticism.
How to avoid it: Try to avoid accepting checks for payment. If you must take one, and the amount is for more than the total, return the check and ask for the exact amount. If overpayment was made using an electronic method, contact customer service and alert them to a possible scam.
Money Hold Scams
What is it? With this scam, you sell an item and wait for payment. The buyer sends you a message that they’ve paid, along with “proof” from Venmo that looks legitimate. The fake Venmo message says the funds they paid are on hold until you, the seller, prove that you’ve shipped the item. You ship it, only to never see the funds.
How to spot it: Venmo does not hold funds until you ship. In fact, it’s assumed that you will not ship until you see payment in your account.
How to avoid it: If you receive such a message, contact Venmo to let them know. They’ll likely want you to forward the message to email@example.com.
Phone Borrowing Scam
What is it? Your phone probably needs to be unlocked using biometrics or a password. But if you’ve already unlocked it, someone has free access. This scam has someone borrowing your phone, then opening Venmo and sending money to themselves while pretending to do something else.
How to spot it: If a stranger wants to borrow your phone to make a call, then takes too long to make the call, they’re likely up to no good.
How to avoid it: Venmo lets you add a PIN for an additional layer of security. Add a PIN and avoid handing your phone over to strangers. If someone has an emergency, offer to make the call for them or dial the number and put it on speakerphone while you hold onto it. Make sure you have multi-factor authentication turned on, as well. The alert will come to your phone, so you won’t see it, but at least it will slow the person down.
What is it? If you’re in the market for a rental, you might encounter this scam. Someone advertises a property for rent or a time-share, then asks for a lease deposit to hold it. You haven’t seen the property yet, so you don’t realize this person has no authority to rent the place to you.
How to spot it: A “hold” deposit isn’t uncommon, especially in competitive markets. However, often these rentals seem too good to be true. The “landlord” may also have listed the same property for rent in multiple markets.
How to avoid it: The best way to avoid this is to insist on touring the property first. If you can’t tour in person, ask someone you trust to do so on your behalf.
Credit: PhotoMIX Company
Keeping Scams Away
You don’t have to give up Venmo to avoid scams. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself while still enjoying the app’s conveniences.
1. Never link your bank account
If you have money in your Venmo account, you can pay others using those funds, but once that money runs out, you’ll still need a way to pay.
That’s where linking your bank account can help.
That’s a bad idea. Here’s why:
A hacker could empty your entire bank account in minutes.
The same applies to linking a debit card. If your debit card is linked to an account, that account is vulnerable to hackers.
Instead of your bank account or debit card, link to a credit card. Yes, a hacker could boost the balance on that card in a matter of minutes, but your credit card is probably covered by $0 fraud liability.
Your debit card comes with $0 fraud liability, too, but it can take time for your bank to reverse fraudulent transactions. With a credit card, your own money stays in your bank account.
2. Vet emails requesting payment
Venmo is designed to be used between people who know each other. For that reason, it’s best to set a policy to only send money to people you know. If you owe money for a product or service, you should already be aware of it, so any out-of-the-blue requests should be viewed skeptically.
Often emails from scammers are packed with typos and errors. If you see obvious misspellings and grammatical mistakes, often that’s a sure sign a communication isn’t legitimate.
There are multiple types of scams involving messages asking for payment. Always make sure you know why and who you’re paying before you send money through Venmo.
3. Protect your payments
In some cases, your payments are eligible for refund. But you have to meet some criteria first.
To qualify for Venmo Purchase Protection, your transaction must fulfill one of the following requirements:
- Be sent with “good or service” checked. The seller will pay a fee, but it’s worth it. Both buyers and sellers have some protection against scams when “good or service” is selected.
- Be sent to a Venmo business profile.
- Be made using a Venmo debit card at a point of sale or through an in-app purchase.
4. Make your payments private
Venmo’s newsfeed feature makes it unique. When you log in, you can see all the payments your friends have made.
“Jessica Smith paid Matthew Brown for movie tickets.”
“Samantha Vaughn paid Emilee Sanders for coffee.”
As fun as this can be, it leaves your account open to fraud.
You have three options when sending money through Venmo:
- Public: This allows anyone on the internet to see your full name, the full name of the recipient, and the payment reason you state in the note.
- Friends: Only your Venmo friends and Venmo friends of the recipient will see the above information.
- Private: Only you and the recipient will see the transaction. You’ll see the above information, plus the payment amount.
To play it safe, you should keep your transactions private. You can change your privacy settings for all transactions under Settings and Privacy.
If you’d prefer to manage your privacy settings on a case-by-case basis, you can do that instead. Before sending the payment, you’ll be asked “Who can see this?” Simply choose “Private” to keep the transaction between you and the recipient.
5. Check your multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication is a great way to safeguard your account from hackers. It’s available in most payment apps, and Venmo is no exception.
With multi-factor authentication, a code will be sent to your registered phone number when you log in from an unrecognized device. Not only will hackers be locked out, you’ll get a text letting you know someone is trying to log in as you.
Venmo uses multi-factor authentication by default, but it only applies to unrecognized devices.
One of the best ways to keep your account safe is to occasionally review the list of recognized devices. You’ll do this under “Settings and Security.” If there are any devices you aren’t actively using, remove them. Set a reminder to occasionally check this list.
6. Don’t use Venmo to sell goods
Venmo isn’t the best app for selling items to strangers. It was designed to replace cash in ways credit cards can’t. If you need to split a pizza between friends or pay someone back for concert tickets, Venmo has that covered.
If you’re selling an item at a garage sale and a neighbor wants to pay by Venmo, it likely won’t be a problem. However, when you use it to sell items online to people you don’t know, things can start to get sticky.
For best results, stick to PayPal for paying strangers online. PayPal is built for transactions between strangers and has a full dispute process.
Credit: Liza Summer
What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed
Despite your best efforts, you may still find yourself at the losing end of a Venmo scam. If that happens, below are some steps to take to reduce fallout.
1. Contact the recipient
Some apps let you cancel the payment if the recipient hasn’t claimed it yet. Venmo isn’t one of those apps. Once the money has been sent, it’s considered property of the recipient.
However, the recipient can cancel the payment. They can either refund the money to your account or have Venmo reverse the transaction.
If you’ve been scammed, the recipient will likely ignore that request. It’s worth a try though, just in case.
2. Prevent further damage
Once you’ve determined you’ve been scammed, it’s time to do what you can to protect the rest of your money. Here are some steps to take as soon as possible.
Contact Your Bank Account
If your bank account or debit card were connected to your Venmo account, contact your bank immediately. Let them know your card and/or your account might have been compromised. They’ll be able to take the actions necessary to protect your funds.
Put a Hold on Venmo-Connected Cards
Maybe your credit card was connected to your Venmo account. If so, you’ll need to reach out and put the card on hold. Your credit card issuer may choose to close that card and issue a new one, depending on the nature of the fraudulent activity.
Venmo needs to know that your account may have been compromised. If you haven’t already reached out to let them know, do so as soon as possible. In addition to ensuring all is okay with your account, they can also investigate the scammer and possibly stop further incidents.
Change Your Passwords
Whether you clicked on a malicious link or not, one of the best actions you can take to protect yourself is change your password. In fact, try to remember to change it every 60 days or so.
Once you’re logged into the app or website, you can change your password under “Settings and Profile.”
3. Report it to Venmo
Even if you received a suspicious email and didn’t click, it’s still important to alert Venmo. They can use the information to investigate and possibly prevent future users from being scammed.
You can forward scam emails to firstname.lastname@example.org for investigation. For text messages, screenshot the message and complete the form here.
4. Never click links
Make it a regular practice to think twice before clicking on a link on an email or text message. First, stop to ask yourself whether you’re sure about the sender.
5. Enter a Venmo PIN
Venmo is wide open by default. That means if someone can find their way into your phone, Venmo can be opened. In a matter of seconds, someone can send hundreds of dollars that you won’t be able to recover.
However, Venmo does let you set a PIN on your account. Even if your phone is unlocked, someone won’t be able to get into your account if it has a PIN on it.
Here’s how to set a PIN:
- Go to “Settings”
- Choose “Face ID & PIN” on iOS or “PIN Code & Biometric Unlock” on Android
- Tap on the toggle to turn on the feature
- Create and confirm your PIN
6. Contact Venmo about unexplained funds
If strange funds show up in your account, get in touch with Venmo so they can investigate. Forward any emails you get from the sender to them, as well. It could be an innocent mistake, but it’s better safe than sorry.
7. Get identity theft protection
Identity theft protection like Aura can give you the peace of mind you need in the future. If account or payment information was captured during the fraud attempt, identity theft protection will help you stay on top of issues and even resolve them.
Venmo has become a convenient way to transfer funds to friends and associates, but there are some security risks that come with using any financial app. Knowing the various scams can help you take measures to ensure your money is safe.
Venmo is a useful tool that makes paying friends and family easier, but like any technology, it comes with a few risks. By being aware of those risks and taking precautions, you can keep your device and your financial accounts secure.
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