In recent years, fraudsters have typically tried to get their targets to send money in one of four ways: gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or hard cash, because virtually everyone is not found once the payment has cleared their account. hands.
Today, a fifth form of payment is booming: peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers via popular apps such as Zelle, Venmo or Cash App. These services allow you to send money from a smartphone to someone you know using funds from a linked bank account or a credit or debit card. These transfers are instantaneous and, in most situations, cannot be traced.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline gets daily calls about P2P app scams like these:
- Looking for a puppy to replace a beloved pet that died, a Nevada woman went online to find a pet to sell. After getting fake photos of a puppy from a seller, he was asked to send $600 through Zelle. The woman was cheated out of a replacement dog — and the $600.
- A South Carolina woman received a call from someone who said he saw her LinkedIn profile and wanted to hire her. She agreed, and the new company sent her a check to deposit for start-up costs. Then he was asked to send some of that money back through Zelle to pay for his background check. Of course, the check turned out to be fake and the money she had sent by Zelle was gone.
- An Illinois man wanted to buy concert tickets posted on Instagram. He asked to pay by credit card but was forced to pay $800 via Venmo. When the transfer took place, the scammer actually bragged to the buyer that he had just been ripped off and would never see his money – or the tickets – again.
- A Louisiana woman went online and searched for air conditioners. She found a lot on a website that only accepted Cash App. She paid $97.99 into her account, but the air conditioner never arrived.
A spokesperson for PayPal, owner of Venmo, said, “We encourage customers who suspect they are the target of a scam to contact customer service directly.”
In some cases, scammers use P2P applications in more sophisticated tricks. Lura Ball, 66, a widowed baker from Los Angeles, was saving money to achieve a long-time goal of opening a business. On Thanksgiving 2021, she got caught up in a Zelle scam that nearly destroyed that dream. (Listen to his full story on AARP The perfect scam podcast at aarp.org/theperfectscam.) The scammer called her, pretending to be from her bank, and told her that someone was trying to make a big Zelle transaction through her account. Thinking to stop the scam, she inadvertently allowed the criminal to empty her account.
“I just lost my business,” Ball said in the podcast episode, as reality hit her. “It’s $18,500. All I have. I’m absolutely sick. I was ashamed. My stomach hurt.” This story has a relatively happy ending: her bank finally agreed to reimburse her. But the scammer got away with the money from the bank.Few such scams result in the target getting their money back.
The 5 Ways to Stay Safe from AARP Fraud Watch Network
1. Never use P2P transfer apps when engaging with strangers or businesses. For purchases or other transactions, you have much more protection if you use a credit card.
2. If someone you don’t know insists on getting paid with Zelle, Cash App or Venmo, walk away. Chances are too high that it is a scam.
3. Link the app you’re using to a credit card rather than a bank account for more built-in protection. And be sure to pay off the credit card on time to avoid paying interest.
4. Do not click on any links sent to you by SMS or email with a request to update your P2P account information. These are often sent by scammers.
5. If you think you have been cheated, always go directly to the app’s website to contact customer service. If you do a generic web search for a company’s customer service, fake sites created by scammers will often show up among the results – and you could be falling victim to an entirely different scam.
Do you have questions about scams? Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network’s free hotline at 877-908-3360. For the latest fraud news and advice, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.