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In today’s digital landscape, the traditional wallet has taken a backseat as money-transfer apps like Venmo have revolutionized transactions. The simplicity of these apps in facilitating payments has brought about unparalleled convenience, eliminating the need for physical cash or card exchanges. However, alongside this convenience looms a significant degree of risk, notably as Venmo scams surge in prevalence.
Venmo, initially conceived as a financial tool, has become an unwitting accomplice in a variety of scams. Unscrupulous individuals have leveraged its platform to orchestrate various fraudulent schemes. Among these tactics, one prevalent ploy involves the impersonation of Venmo’s customer support. This enables scammers to deceive users into disclosing sensitive information or surrendering their hard-earned money. A related stratagem involves the manipulation of fabricated links to coax victims into parting with their funds. The common denominator in these schemes is the intent to pilfer assets, whether monetary or personal, through deceptive means.
Fortunately, there are several distinct indicators that can serve as warning signs to identify Venmo scams. By recognizing these markers, you can bolster your defenses against potential fraud. Safeguarding both financial resources and personal data hinges on detecting these common Venmo scams, which, if overlooked, can render individuals and their finances susceptible to criminal exploitation.
To fortify your online security further, it’s prudent to familiarize yourself with protective measures against prevalent online scams on platforms like Cash App and Zelle, as they, too, pose inherent risks to your digital well-being.
Do you know how to spot a Venmo scam?
Spotting a Venmo scam involves being cautious when using the platform for transactions. A recent incident involving an Oklahoma woman illustrates this point. She engaged with an online dog breeder, believing she was getting a pet for her family. Despite the breeder’s seemingly legitimate website and detailed inquiries about her home, she fell victim to a Venmo scam and lost nearly $1,000.
The scam unfolded as the woman made multiple deposits via Venmo, both to the breeder and a dubious “delivery” company. This experience highlighted the lack of robust fraud protection on Venmo, as well as similar payment apps like Zelle or Cash App, in contrast to other payment methods.
The Better Business Bureau’s Online Purchase Scam Report underscores the prevalence of such scams. Victims of Venmo scams have, on average, lost around $700, ranking as the second-highest amount among various payment services. Hence, individuals utilizing Venmo for transactions should exercise caution to avoid falling prey to scams.
What are Venmo scams? Is Venmo safe?
Venmo scams involve deceptive tactics that manipulate Venmo users into sending money or personal information to scammers, including bank account details and Social Security numbers (SSN). While Venmo is generally safe when certain precautions are taken, scammers find it appealing for a few reasons.
Firstly, Venmo transfers are nearly instant but often lack immediate verification, giving scammers time to exploit stolen credit cards or bank accounts before detection. If the actual account owner reports fraud, the funds sent to scammers can’t be reclaimed.
Secondly, Venmo offers a level of anonymity that scammers exploit. They can establish fake accounts or pose as genuine users, requesting money fraudulently. Venmo recommends using the service solely for trusted transactions.
Various Venmo scams tend to follow these patterns:
- Overpayment or mistake payment scams: Scammers send excessive money for an online transaction and demand a refund, utilizing stolen financial credentials.
- Impersonator scams: Scammers pretend to be friends and request money transfers.
- Free money scams: Fraudsters inform users of supposed Venmo winnings, prompting them to provide bank details to access the money.
- Fake Venmo employee scams: Yoy receive fake calls or emails from alleged Venmo employees seeking personal information to “help” you.
It’s important to note that peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo have significantly higher fraud rates compared to credit cards. To protect yourself, be well-informed about the latest scams before sending money through Venmo.
The 17 common scams on Venmo to watch out for
Here are the latest Venmo scams to know and how to stay safe:
Fake friends requesting help
Fake friends requesting help on Venmo is a con where scammers adopt classic impersonation tactics. They change their profile details to mimic someone you know, then message you for money citing an “urgent” situation, like medical expenses or legal fees.
These scammers exploit your online presence, analyzing social media and public Venmo activities to manipulate you into sending money. They might even compromise a friend’s account to make it seem genuine, redirecting funds to themselves instead.
To safeguard yourself:
- Rely on your instincts – if the message feels unlike your friend, be cautious.
- Confirm unexpected money requests with the concerned person via other means.
- Update Venmo privacy settings to keep transactions private and off public display.
Mistake money transfers
“Mistake” money transfers involve scammers sending money to individuals through platforms like Venmo. The scam begins with the scammer sending money using a stolen credit card. They then reach out to the recipient, claiming the transfer was a mistake, and ask for a refund.
However, the scammer’s true intention is to update their Venmo account with their own banking details before the recipient issues a refund. As a result, when the recipient refunds the money, it goes to the scammer’s account instead of the stolen credit card.
Subsequently, when the actual owner of the stolen credit card detects the fraudulent charge and reverses it, Venmo deducts the corresponding amount from the recipient’s account. Since Venmo lacks built-in fraud protection, the recipient bears the financial loss.
To avoid falling victim to this scam, follow these steps:
- Disregard unexpected transfers, particularly if the sender requests a refund. Avoid responding to such requests. Some victims have noticed that fraudulent transactions vanish on their own.
- Refrain from depositing mistaken transfers into your account, as you’ll be held responsible for the amount when the genuine victim reports the fraud.
- If uncertain, contact Venmo to authenticate or potentially reverse the transaction. You can also block Venmo users who send uninvited payments or requests.
Scammers selling hard-to-find items
Scammers take advantage of the frustration that comes with searching for elusive items like highly sought-after gaming consoles or concert tickets. In such situations, people might opt to purchase these items directly from unfamiliar individuals rather than official retailers. However, this is where scammers come into play, exploiting the lack of fraud protection offered by Venmo in case things go wrong.
In one scheme, scammers advertise desirable products on platforms like Facebook Marketplace. When potential buyers express interest, they insist on using Venmo for payment to avoid transaction fees. Yet, after receiving the payment, the scammer vanishes, leaving the buyer with neither the product nor their money.
Another variation involves scammers sending fake emails resembling official Venmo payment confirmations. These fraudulent emails state that the funds are being held until the buyer submits shipping details, a nonexistent Venmo feature meant to deceive victims.
It’s important to note that these scams can also target sellers. Scammers fund their Venmo accounts using stolen credit card information, purchasing items from sellers. Once the fraud is detected, the seller is forced to reimburse the stolen funds, resulting in financial loss and the forfeiture of the item.
To avoid falling victim to these scams, here are some recommended precautions:
- Refrain from using Venmo for online purchases from unfamiliar individuals. Unless you have a personal connection or can physically meet the seller, the risk of a scam is higher.
- Opt to buy from approved Venmo business accounts, as they offer the safeguard of “Purchase Protection” for eligible items.
- Verify the authenticity of emails claiming to be from Venmo by ensuring they originate from an official “Venmo.com” email address. Any divergence is indicative of a scam.
The money multiplier scam
The Money Multiplier Scam, reminiscent of the classic chain letter concept, has evolved into a Venmo-based scheme. In this scam, participants are promised substantial returns by sending money to the top name on a list. Similar to the chain letter, where you’d supposedly receive dollars from numerous individuals, scammers claim that sending an initial amount, say $100, to a Venmo account will result in a tenfold return, totaling $1,000, within a short period, usually a week.
However, this setup is likely a variant of a pyramid scheme. Rather than fulfilling the promise of a significant profit, the scheme relies on the continuous recruitment of new participants to generate returns for the earlier entrants. Ultimately, participants who join later are left without any substantial gains, and the initial sum they invested is lost.
In essence, the money multiplier scam preys on people’s desire for quick financial gains, using the allure of exponential returns to deceive them into parting with their money. It operates by exploiting participants’ hope of receiving substantial amounts in return for a small initial investment, when in reality, the system is unsustainable and designed to benefit only a few at the top.
Fake payment invoices from Venmo
In an alternate version of online shopping scams, individuals may receive an email that appears to display an official Venmo payment notification. These emails often state that Venmo is temporarily retaining the payment until the recipient provides shipping details for the purchased item. However, it’s crucial to note that this isn’t a legitimate service offered by Venmo; rather, it’s a tactic employed by scammers.
It’s important to be aware that these types of scams can occur when selling items online as well. Scammers may load their Venmo account with funds from a stolen credit card to pay for an item. Once the seller ships the item, the fraudulent transaction is eventually discovered, and the seller is left responsible for repaying the stolen funds. Consequently, the seller not only loses the money but also the item they intended to sell.
To safeguard against falling victim to this scam, follow these steps:
- Disregard any assertion that Venmo is holding funds until an item is shipped; this is a false claim.
- Wait until the payment is verified in your Venmo account prior to dispatching any items to the buyer.
- Verify that any email correspondence originates from an official “Venmo.com” email address. If the sender’s address is not genuine, it’s indicative of a scam.
The donation scam
The “Donation Scam” is a fraudulent scheme that takes advantage of people’s willingness to help during times of crisis. Typically occurring after a natural disaster or a widely publicized event, scammers capitalize on people’s generosity by posing as charitable organizations seeking donations. These scams often manifest on social media platforms, with scammers promoting fake Venmo accounts as a means to contribute money.
For instance, a notable case involved a Venmo account created under the guise of a nonprofit based in Minnesota. This account was falsely established after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Despite its claims, the organization had no connection to the Venmo account and was not collecting funds for the stated cause.
To avoid falling victim to such scams, it’s essential to exercise caution. Before clicking on any links or donating through Venmo, take the time to verify the legitimacy of the organization. If something seems suspicious or lacks credible information, refraining from making a donation is a prudent choice to safeguard against potential fraud.
Overpayment for online purchases
“Overpayment for online purchases” refers to a type of scam where fraudsters intentionally pay more than the agreed price for an item you’re selling online. They make it seem like an accident, and when you refund the extra amount, you realize their initial payment was fake.
Essentially, you lose the money you sent as the overpayment wasn’t real. Moreover, the initial payment was often made using a stolen credit card, which makes you responsible for the lost funds. To protect yourself, avoid using Venmo for selling items to strangers, especially without meeting in person.
If you encounter such a situation, contact Venmo’s customer service, noting details of the call. Signing up for a credit and transaction monitoring service like Aura can also help detect fraud early, preventing significant losses.
The rental scam
In this scenario, you come across a seemingly perfect condo rental listing that ticks all the boxes: stunning, conveniently located, and reasonably priced. The ad assures you that you can secure the property by sending a deposit through Venmo. However, this is where the problem arises.
Despite your enthusiasm fueled by the captivating images you’ve seen, those photos have likely been illicitly taken from a legitimate real estate website, portraying a condo situated in a completely different part of the country. To compound matters, the condo isn’t even available for rent anymore in that distant city.
Regrettably, the outcome is that a scam artist now possesses your money, having received it through Venmo. This situation illustrates the danger of falling victim to a rental scam, where appearances can be deceiving and scammers exploit your trust to their advantage.
Fake emails and texts claiming to be from Venmo (Phishing attacks)
Phishing attacks involve fraudulent emails and texts that impersonate reputable businesses like Venmo. Scammers meticulously replicate genuine Venmo communication, incorporating elements like colors, logos, and similar domain names (e.g., using “venma.com” instead of “venmo.com”).
These deceptive messages prompt recipients to click a link for personal and financial information verification. Such details are then exploited by scammers for identity theft or fraud. Social engineering is often used to induce urgency, like threats of account charges if the link isn’t clicked.
“Smishing” attacks mirror phishing but via text messages, seemingly from Venmo. To protect yourself:
- Avoid Clicking Links: Refrain from clicking links in emails or texts from financial institutions or Venmo, as these are likely scams.
- Inform Impersonated Businesses: Reach out to the affected company, notifying them of the scam, and then delete the deceptive message.
- Prioritize Direct Contact: If concerned about your Venmo account, call their customer service rather than clicking any link.
- Scrutinize Emails: Be cautious of phishing clues like unfamiliar email addresses or unusual links/attachments in emails.
Strangers who ask to use your phone
The “Strangers who ask to use your phone” scam involves fraudsters approaching individuals in public and requesting to borrow their phone for an emergency situation.
They initiate a call and then assert that the person they’re trying to reach isn’t answering, prompting them to ask for permission to send a text using your phone. However, instead of texting, they exploit this opportunity to access your Venmo account and transfer funds to themselves.
An instance of this scam occurred with a Florida woman who encountered a young boy claiming to be lost and needing to call his parents. Despite the boy being just a few feet away, she didn’t notice him using her Venmo app. Later, she discovered unauthorized Venmo charges of $1,800 and $2,000 on her account.
To avoid falling victim to this scam:
- Refrain from lending your phone to strangers, even if they are children. Suggest helping them contact someone, like the police, instead.
- If children approach you claiming to be lost, offer to accompany them to a nearby shop or business where they can call and await their parents.
- Enhance your Venmo account security by setting up a PIN or utilizing Touch ID. This step ensures that only you can access your account on your phone.
The buying scam
The “Buying Scam” involves a situation where you’re looking to purchase an item, such as a designer handbag, that you came across on a website. Venmo is often used as a convenient method of payment in this context. However, it’s important to exercise caution. Scammers might try to deceive you by providing counterfeit receipts to make it seem like they’ve shipped the handbag.
They’ll then request payment through Venmo. But here’s the catch: the handbag is unlikely to ever reach you. In fact, it’s probable that there was never a genuine handbag available for sale in the first place. This scheme is designed to trick you into paying for something that doesn’t exist.
Gift card scams
This scam pertains to gift cards. The scammer persuades you to send them a small Venmo payment for a gift card, assuring you of a substantially larger gift card in return. However, the larger card is never sent to you.
Similar to the money circle investment scams which involve scammers using deceptive “get rich quick” tactics on platforms like Venmo to defraud individuals. In this scheme, a con artist, who could be a stranger or even someone familiar to you, convinces you to send a small sum of money through Venmo with the promise of receiving a larger amount in return, often after you recruit more participants into the so-called “circle.”
Regrettably, the promised larger sum never materializes, resulting in the loss of your initial investment.
To safeguard yourself:
- Adhere to the fundamental rule of fraud prevention: If an offer seems too good to be true, exercise caution. Be skeptical of any investment that guarantees unrealistically high returns.
- Only transfer funds on Venmo to individuals whom you know and trust. Remain wary of offers from unknown parties or those that sound too enticing.
Fake prizes and rewards
The “Fake prizes and rewards” scam involves receiving deceptive emails or texts stating that you’ve won money or a gift card on Venmo. To claim your reward, you’re directed to click on a link and log into your Venmo account. However, this link is fraudulent and takes you to a phishing site designed to steal your Venmo account credentials.
Another variation of the scam is receiving an email or text promising a Venmo gift card for completing a survey. Legitimate companies generally don’t use Venmo for such offers, as it violates their user agreement.
To protect yourself:
- Be cautious of messages claiming you’ve won a prize, especially if you never participated in a contest. Delete such emails and disregard texts.
- Verify that emails are from an official “Venmo.com” address.
- Never share your Venmo login or account details through text or email.
- If unsure about an offer’s legitimacy, contact Venmo’s customer support for verification.
Scammers posing as Venmo support agents
In a scheme where scammers mimic Venmo support agents, they approach individuals and falsely present themselves as representatives from Venmo’s customer support. They assert that unauthorized transactions have occurred on the person’s account and insist on an account verification process for security reasons.
However, the actual intent of these scammers is to pilfer login credentials (password and 2FA code) with the aim of accessing the victim’s account illicitly.
To protect yourself from falling victim to this ruse, follow these steps:
- Should you receive communication from someone purporting to be a part of Venmo’s customer support, disregard the message or end the call. Subsequently, contact Venmo’s official support via the app directly.
- Never share your two-factor authentication (2FA) codes with anyone. Venmo’s legitimate support team will never ask for this type of information.
Fake Venmo websites with fraudulent contact information
Scammers often create fake websites that mimic Venmo’s appearance and provide false contact details. Their goal is to make you believe they can assist you with your Venmo account. If you contact them, they’ll claim issues with your account and persuade you to pay for “premium” support via Venmo.
To avoid falling for this scam:
- Seek technical support from a company’s official website and locate their verified contact information, rather than relying solely on Google search results.
- Refrain from using Venmo to pay for technical support. Legitimate businesses won’t typically request payment, and if payment is needed, they’ll use appropriate methods designed for businesses.
Scammers post an ad for a job or reach out to you over social media.
Job scams involving requests to send money via Venmo often share a common sequence of steps. First, scammers create a job listing or contact individuals through social media. Rather than conducting proper interviews, they opt for short conversations on platforms like Messenger, Telegram, or WhatsApp to avoid revealing their fraudulent intent. This is because scammers often operate from foreign countries, avoiding phone or video calls to prevent suspicion.
After this initial contact, victims receive a job offer. The catch is that they’re required to pay an upfront fee for onboarding or setup, and the payment is requested through Venmo. In some cases, scammers might even ask victims to use their Venmo account to transfer funds for other employees, unknowingly turning them into “accidental money mules.”
Regardless of the specific scenario, the outcome remains the same: victims are left without a job and with less money. To avoid falling for such scams, it’s crucial to be vigilant. Look out for red flags like overly enticing offers or employers who solely communicate through messaging platforms. Additionally, refrain from making payments for onboarding or job materials unless you’re absolutely certain about the legitimacy of the job opportunity.
Sending fake checks (and asking for a refund via Venmo)
Scammers on Venmo often contact individuals selling items, proposing to send a check for more than the item’s price and requesting a refund through Venmo for the excess amount. Initially, the check may clear when deposited, but it will later bounce. This leaves you responsible for both the bank charges and the money you supposedly refunded. To protect yourself:
- Avoid Paper Check Exchanges: Refrain from substituting paper checks with Venmo payments. This is a conspicuous warning sign of a scam.
- Recognize Bank Scam Indicators: When interacting with unfamiliar individuals on Venmo, watch for signs of a potential bank scam. Be vigilant to protect yourself from falling victim to such schemes.
Romance scammers asking for “gifts”
Romance scammers employ deceptive tactics to manipulate individuals into believing they are in a genuine romantic relationship. These scammers fabricate fake personas and employ tactics like love bombing to establish an emotional connection. They then coerce victims into providing gifts or financial assistance through platforms like Venmo.
For instance, they might concoct a scenario where they express a desire to meet in person but claim financial constraints, such as needing help to cover travel expenses like plane tickets. Regardless of the pretext they use, the outcome remains consistent: after money is sent, the scammers persistently request more funds or vanish entirely.
To avoid falling victim to this scheme, it’s crucial to take preventive steps:
- Exercise Caution with Online Payments: Refrain from sending money to individuals you’ve encountered solely on the internet, especially if your interaction is confined to dating apps or text messaging.
- Recognize Warning Signals: Be attentive to indicators of online dating scams. If the person appears “too good to be true” or consistently avoids meeting in person or engaging in video chats, they’re likely engaging in fraudulent activity.
Scammed on Venmo? Here’s what to do
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to a scam on Venmo, take the following steps to minimize damage and recover your money:
- Cut Off Communication: Cease all contact with the scammer to prevent further interaction.
- Report to Venmo: Immediately notify Venmo’s security support. Forward any fake Venmo emails to email@example.com and screenshots of fake texts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Delete these messages from your account.
- Reclaim Your Funds: Follow the steps provided to attempt to retrieve your money that was scammed on Venmo.
- Update Passwords: Change your Venmo password and strengthen security on other compromised accounts. Employ a unique and strong password, and enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Consider using a password manager for enhanced safety.
- Inform FTC: Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via IdentityTheft.gov. An FTC report will likely be necessary for recovering lost funds.
- Notify Your Bank: If the scammer has accessed your bank information or personal details like SSN, promptly inform your bank about the situation.
- Watch for Identity Theft: Be vigilant for signs of identity theft, which can lead to serious consequences. If your identity is compromised, consult an identity theft recovery guide or consider using an identity theft protection service like Aura for enhanced security.
Can you get your money back?
When you send money to a stranger or fall victim to a scam while using Venmo, the chances of getting your money back are minimal. Unlike credit or debit cards, which offer safeguards against fraud and systems for reversing unauthorized transactions, Venmo operates differently. It treats your funds similar to cash, lacking the same level of protection.
Credit and debit cards have mechanisms in place to handle fraudulent activities and chargebacks, but Venmo does not provide these to the same extent. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been scammed, you’re more likely to recover lost funds if you had used a payment service like PayPal rather than Venmo.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that all hope is lost if you’re scammed on Venmo. There are scenarios where you might still have some recourse.
For instance, if you make a Venmo payment to a legitimate business or classify a payment to an individual profile as a purchase, you could potentially be covered by purchase protection measures. It’s essential to be cautious and mindful of the nature of your transactions to mitigate the risks associated with using Venmo.
How to protect yourself from Venmo scams
Protecting yourself from Venmo scams requires a few key steps. Firstly, limit your transactions to people you know well and trust. If you need to use Venmo in other situations, follow these guidelines:
- Use a Credit Card: Link your credit card to your Venmo account instead of your bank account. It’s easier to cancel a credit card and file a chargeback if an issue arises.
- Adjust Privacy Settings: Update your privacy settings to keep your transactions private. Not everyone needs to know the details of your payments.
- Stick to Trusted Contacts: Only engage in Venmo transactions with people you are familiar with. Treat these transactions like cash—once the money is gone, it’s hard to retrieve.
- Verify Requests: If you receive unexpected payment requests, contact the sender directly to confirm their authenticity before proceeding.
- Avoid Unknown Contacts: Refrain from accepting payments from unfamiliar individuals. Report and block accounts that randomly request money from you.
- Secure Transactions: Don’t ship or release items until you’ve received payment and verified the legitimacy of the transaction.
- Be Skeptical of Offers: Be cautious of offers that seem too good to be true, as they’re often scams.
- Guard Personal Information: Never share personal information, even if someone claims to be from Venmo.
- Monitor Accounts: Regularly check your credit report and bank statements for signs of suspicious activity.
- Beware of Links: Don’t click on links or attachments in suspicious emails or texts, as they might lead to phishing scams.
- Protect Your Device: Don’t let anyone else use your phone, as it could compromise your Venmo and other accounts.
- Enable 2FA: Set up multi-factor authentication (2FA) to enhance your account security.
- Consider Identity Theft Protection: Consider using an identity theft protection service to monitor your personal information and accounts for signs of fraud.
By following these steps, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to Venmo scams and safeguard your financial information.
What are common Venmo scams?
The two most common Venmo scams are:
This is when a scammer pretends to be one of your friends or contacts on Venmo. They might use a similar profile picture and username to create the illusion that they are someone you know. The scammer then sends you a message, often urgent or emotional, asking for money.
They might fabricate a story about being in a difficult situation and needing financial assistance. To avoid falling for this scam, always double-check the identity of the person reaching out to you, preferably through a separate communication channel like a phone call or text message.
Free money scams
In this type of scam, a fraudster contacts you via Venmo with a message claiming that you’ve won a prize or free money. They might present the message as a promotional offer from Venmo itself or another company.
To receive the supposed winnings, they’ll ask you to provide your bank details or personal information. This is a tactic to steal your sensitive information and potentially gain unauthorized access to your financial accounts. Legitimate organizations don’t ask for such information over Venmo or other messaging platforms, so be cautious and refrain from sharing any personal or financial details in response to such messages.
Staying vigilant, verifying the identity of anyone requesting money, and being skeptical of unsolicited offers are essential steps to protect yourself from these and other scams on Venmo.
Will Venmo refund money if scammed?
Venmo does not provide refunds for payments between personal users, even if a scam occurs. However, payments categorized as purchases or involving business accounts might be eligible for a refund in case of a scam. If you think your payment qualifies for a refund, you can reach out to Venmo and initiate a dispute process.
The bottom line: Protect yourself from Venmo scams
Using Venmo for sending money to familiar contacts is convenient. However, using it for online transactions, such as buying or selling items, exposes you to potential scams.
To safeguard yourself and your funds from Venmo scammers, stay alert, carefully review each transaction, and avoid sending money to unfamiliar individuals. For enhanced protection of your account and personal information, sign up for Aura.