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Blog In Depth

Venmo scams: how to protect yourself

The Venmo app has turned payments to your friends and family members into a game: you can leave comments, use custom emojis, and make transactions with one click. But there’s a downside. With 50 million active users, the app is an appealing target for scammers. Let's discuss common Venmo frauds and ways to protect yourself.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez

Feb 16, 2021 · 4 min read

Venmo scams: how to protect yourself

What is Venmo and how does it work?

Venmo is a payment service owned by PayPal that allows users to pay and request money from friends, family, and acquaintances. Let’s say you shared a cab with a couple of co-workers and want to split the bill. Venmo allows you to make payments to people on your contact list in seconds.

The app can also be called a form of social media: users can see who their friends transfer money to, leave comments, and add reactions. That’s why it’s extremely popular among millennials looking for new ways to interact.

You can import contacts from your Facebook or phone address book and they will appear in the app. Venmo also offers a debit card and allows you to make purchases with authorized merchants and mobile websites. The app only works inside the US, however, and you need an American bank account to set up a profile and make payments.

For many years money transfer was a private matter, but Venmo is for people who care little about their privacy. However, there are always bad actors willing to scam users when they get too comfortable.

Common Venmo scams you need know about

1. The “accidental” money transfer

Scammers can send you money using a stolen credit card and then contact you claiming that it was a mistake. Most people would send the money back without a hesitation.

When Venmo discovers that a transaction was made from a stolen card, it takes back the money from your account. And if you have already made the transfer to a perpetrator, you will never see the money you sent to them again.

2. The fake buyer

While Venmo discourages people from using the app to receive funds from strangers, many users still do so. This can open you up to serious risks. Let’s say you sold your old laptop online, and a buyer paid you on Venmo. You send the laptop to the new owner just to learn that this person has retracted the money and you’re left with nothing.

3. Smishing and phishing

Hackers can impersonate Venmo and send you a fraudulent email or text message, asking to update your payment information or personal details. When you click on the link, it might redirect you to a website that looks exactly like the original, but operated by a hacker.

The copycat site will have been designed to steal your sensitive data and any information you input will be visible to the criminals.

4. Identity theft

A scammer could steal your friend’s account, contact you, and ask to borrow money. You would then send the money, only to find out later that your friend never asked for any.

5. The “stranger in the street” scam

Perpetrators need only a couple of moments to send money to themselves from your Venmo account. There were various reports about strangers approaching people and asking to use their phone for emergencies. However, once they got the phone, they quickly opened the Venmo app, sent money to their own account, and then disappeared.

How to identify a potential Venmo scam

Using online banking and payment services requires common sense and precautions. We recommend that you double check every payment before making it and follow these instructions:

  • Be wary of any strangers making contact with you.
  • Avoid sending money to somebody outside your social circle.
  • Don’t use Venmo for receiving payments for goods or services.
  • Don’t click on any link in your email or SMS.
  • If something suspicious happens, contact Venmo customer service immediately, instead of trying to sort out things yourself.
  • Never hand your phone to strangers.

How to enhance security on your device

Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Two-factor authentication adds an additional layer of security, which should be implemented on all your accounts. When somebody’s trying to access your account from a different device, Venmo will send you an SMS or an email to confirm your identity.

Use a strong password. “123456” or “iloveyou” are weak passwords and the right software can crack them in milliseconds. We recommend using special characters and numbers along with upper- and lower-case letters in your passwords. If you’re taking your security seriously, it’s best to get yourself a password manager.

Get a VPN. A VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address, thus protecting you from hackers and snoopers. If you often use public Wi-Fi, a VPN is a must, as wrongdoers can set up fake hotspots and use these to steal your personal information.

The Venmo app can be a great fun, if you’re using it properly and taking security precautions. With the growing number of users, Venmo scams will also surge. It’s best to be wary and always stay one step ahead of fraudsters.

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