5 Ways to Avoid Scams on Venmo

September 20th 2015

Whether you need to pay your roommate your half of the internet bill or it it’s time to fork over your share of the AirBNB rental your crew booked—it's common that you need to pay someone else for something.

That IKEA trip demands dishing out some dough to your significant other for the unpronounceable name of the couch. Cash might not always be practical, or available, and only your grandma still writes checks.

To make life easier, there are a whole arsenal of online and mobile money transfer applications. With just a few taps on your smartphone or tablet, money is sent from your account to someone else. Fast and easy, money transfer apps have changed the way we spend and receive cash; it could even be said that mobile money transfer apps have changed the way we avoid awkward money conversations or hanging IOUs.

A rapidly changing industry

A Forrester prediction states that by 2019, U.S. mobile-based payments will reach $142 billion, a huge step from the $52 billion in volume in 2014. And, has been estimated that by 2017 the global mobile payments industry will reach $1 trillion.

From the minimalist UX of Square Cash to messenger-centric Facebook money transfer, to the PayPal utilized by both the behemoth Amazon and Etsy artisans, there are many different platforms to choose from (and is seems like everyone has a personal favorite). Venmo is part social network as the public displays your friends’ transactions; it’s a way of talking about the subject none of us like to talk about—money. Even Snapchat is in the game with Square-supported Snapcash.

In the age of easy access of linking your bank account to money transfer platforms there is also an increased danger for identity theft, scams and fraud. Just as your wallet can be stolen, so can your digital hard-earned funds. And, your NBA Finals tickets can be lifted from right under your nose. This was the case with some Venmo users who were selling basketball tickets and a laptop on Craigslist. The sellers agreed to receive the money for the goods through Venmo. Little did they know that such transactions violated the user agreement stating: “Business, commercial, or merchant transactions may not be conducted using personal accounts.”

The funds look like they transferred on the sellers' end, marked with the green plus sign, but in fact were in a sort of financial purgatory (as all transactions are, since they are not instant). A couple days later the funds were reversed because they broke the user agreement and the seller was out of their goods.

Venmo, similar to its mobile counterparts and competition, is incredibly useful, but as recent scams and lackluster customer service allegations have shown, there is a risk involved with use.

To best use mobile money transfer applications you need to find your personal balance of security and ease of use. While the big names in mobile transaction apps—Google Wallet, PayPal, Venmo, and Square Cash—are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliant that provides layers of digital transaction security, it is important to make sure you are secure. Here are five factors to take into account before transferring out of your accounts.

1. Two-factor authentication

To avoid any account hacks or fraudulent money transfers choose a service that has two-factor authentication. It’s really one of the best things you can do for any of your online services with personal information, especially banking. Instead of just relying on a password when you log in, the authentication process involves a passcode that is sent to you in text messages, or a password can be sent to your email. As another layer of personal safety, set a lock screen on your phone, so even if the person who hacked your password compromises your phone, they still would not have access to your mobile payments account.

2. Keep it in the bank (or credit union)

If you and your money-transferring pal have the same bank you may to cut out the middleman and stick within the banking system. The bigger banks offer easy transferring services within their apps and online portals like Chase Quick Pay and Wells Fargo Sure Pay. Most of the time you need just the recipient’s email. These options cut out having to link your account number to any other external platforms. You can also check to see if you or your friend have the same credit union, and what the policy might be to transfer money.

3. Don’t take money from strangers

A good rule of thumb when you make money transactions is to send and receive with those you know. You likely live, play, and work the most with people you can trust. You can trust them to send you their half of the rent and their half of gas for the road trip. In contrast you do not know the intentions of the person on the other side of that Craigslist offer to buy your stuff. If you are going to mobile transact with strangers, use a platform that has as many precautions, and security measures as possible.

4. Check it twice

Just like you would check your bank account to make sure everything adds up, compare the incoming and outgoing transactions made with a money transfer application. Set up automatic notifications to provide you with reports delivered to your inbox and calendar notifications at least weekly to remind you to check your statements.

5. Ready a report

If something is strange, insecure, missing or just plain wrong in your financial statements or within the mobile transaction application, report it immediately to both the app and your bank. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act will likely cover any fraud committed against you, but it can be dependent on the timeliness of the report.

So, go forth, spend on experiences and then split the bill (your friends will thank you). Just be conscious of the tools you use, and be careful because sometimes it might look instant and feel easy but it does not always mean that it’s safe.

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