REGION – Zelle and Venmo – are you familiar with these? Do you use them? Regardless of whether your answers are yes or no, they are systems that can make the transfer of money more convenient and all you need is a bank account, credit card, and a cell phone. In themselves, they are not fraudulent and may serve a critical role in dealing with emergencies that require that money be moved quickly.
Zelle and Venmo are identified as “Peer-to-Peer” payment systems. Zelle was created by several major banks while Venmo is part of PayPal. Both systems require registration. You can often sign up for Zelle through your bank or credit union and receive or use funds in your own accounts. Venmo conducts business between Venmo accounts and balances.
Are these money transfer systems fast? Very! A money transfer takes only a couple minutes. Zelle withdraws and deposits money into an existing bank or brokerage account. Venmo uses PayPal to do the same thing; and if you are making a purchase but do not have sufficient funds, Venmo debits the credit card linked to the account. Generally, no fee is charged for transactions, but as with everything else, check with the system being used before doing anything.
So far, this seems to be a harmless way to do business. It can be very convenient when dealing with friends or family to get money from one place to another. However, as Zelle and Venmo become more popular, use by criminals increases. In fact, the FBI reports that since inception three or four years ago, scammers increased their use of the payment systems due to the speed of money transfers, ease of use, and anonymity.
So, what scams are using Zelle and Venmo? Almost all of them: fake prizes, tech support, romance, buying or selling goods and services, friend or family member in need, get rich quick scams, check scams, and charity scams.
How to avoid becoming a victim? Think before you click! As with most scams, don’t let emotion govern your behavior. With Zelle and Venmo, understand that money transfers are permanent and occur as soon as you make the authorization. If you realize that a scam has occurred, report it immediately to the bank or credit union involved. While they cannot stop the transfer, they may be able to reimburse you for the loss. If the institution does not assist you, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, www.cfpb.gov.
Consider these tips:
- When you get a call, don’t believe caller ID – it’s too easy to fake.
- Never give anyone your account or other personal information, including passwords, via phone, text, or email unless you can independently verify their identity.
- Research and validate all requests for money transfers.
- Don’t provide goods or services to anyone before receiving payment.
- If someone tells you that they sent you money by mistake, tell them to cancel the transaction. It is likely a scam if the person refuses to do this.
- Utilize two-factor authentication with all financial accounts.
- Link Zelle and Venmo accounts to credit cards, not bank accounts, to provide additional protection. You can challenge credit card charges before payment is issued.
- Avoid the complications altogether by using Apple Pay Cash, Square Cash, or features available in Gmail or Messenger. In fact, you may have money transfer capability built into an existing bank, credit union, or brokerage accounts.
Additional tips can be found on websites for the Better Business Bureau, AARP, several banks and brokerages, and by simply using your browser search engine by typing Zelle or Venmo.
If you fall victim to a money transfer scam, report it. There is no guarantee you will get your money back, but the report information may aid law enforcement and the transfer services in apprehending criminals and improving the services. Contact the FBI at www.IC3.gov and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. Also consider filing a report with AARP, www.aarp.org/fraud, and the Better Business Bureau, www.BBB.org/scamtracker. Both organizations track and report scams nationwide.
Questions or concerns? Contact me at email@example.com.
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.