The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many of our routines, including the ways we pay. Consumers are increasingly looking for contactless payment options to keep themselves and vendors safe. As a result, the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile payment apps such as CashApp, Venmo, and Zelle is growing.
P2P apps are designed to simplify financial transactions between people who know and trust each other, like splitting the check at dinner or sending utility bill payments to a roommate. Some apps have even added more traditional financial services such as debit cards and routing numbers. However, unlike traditional banks and credit cards, payment app services often lack the same fraud protections.
As Americans grow more comfortable using these apps, scammers have adapted their tactics to take advantage of the quick and often anonymous access to cash that they provide. Many of the scams listed in our Scam Glossary may now ask for the money to be sent using a P2P app instead of a gift card, an established favorite of scammers.
Most of the P2P apps expressly warn consumers to avoid using P2P payments for purchasing goods or services. Even a legitimate transaction can go wrong by entering an incorrect phone number or misspelling a recipient's name, resulting in the funds going to the wrong person. Once the funds are transferred, the money is likely lost.
Some scammers are asking for fake charitable donations using P2P apps. Before donating with a P2P app, always check the charity's website to verify that they accept donations through that app. (Learn more about charity scams.)
For in-person transactions, look into contactless payment options built into your mobile device or your existing credit cards.
Here are some other steps to help you avoid being scammed when using payment apps:
- Review the app's fraud protection policies and understand whether and how you can recover funds if a problem arises.
- Link your money transfer app to a credit card rather than a debit card or your bank account. A credit card provides added protection in case you do not receive the goods or services that you have purchased.
- Be wary of any business that only accepts P2P payment apps or pre-paid debit card payments. Consider this a red flag.
- Always verify the recipient's information before making any payment.
- Never send P2P payments to - or accept payments from - someone you don't know.
- Always create strong, unique passwords and disable automatic logins.
- Never provide sensitive personal information over the phone. Legitimate customer support operations will not ask for your bank account information.
- If you get an unexpected inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.
If you think you're a victim of a scam involving peer-to-peer payment apps, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. For concerns about P2P services, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
To file complaints about phone and text scams with the FCC, visit fcc.gov/complaints.