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Money scams are out of control: How to lock down your bank or payment app

Contactless payment has gained traction, thanks in part to social distancing. Rather than handle cash or even swipe a card, you need only hold your smartphone close to a payment terminal, scan a QR code or send money directly through a peer-to-peer (P2P) app.

Well-known payment apps include PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, CashApp, Android Pay, Google Pay, Zelle and Square. They make sending and receiving money a fast and easy process. These apps do carry some risk, however. If you use Venmo, your privacy could be at risk unless you downloaded a recent update. Tap or click here for details.

Mobile apps are convenient, but you should take precautions when using them. Complaints involving these apps have gone up as they’ve become more common. Below are six popular payment apps and tips on how to use them safely.


The PayPal-owned Venmo is mostly used for sending money to friends and family. It’s a mobile-centric app with social media influences, complete with feeds, emojis and animated stickers.

You should use Venmo only for transactions with people you trust. Splitting the bill at a restaurant is one good use for Venmo. The company itself says if you pay the wrong person, it can’t guarantee you’ll get your money back.

“Venmo does not offer buyer or seller protection.” It says so on the company website. If the person you paid doesn’t refund you, consider your money as good as gone.

Privacy settings on Venmo include showing your payments to the public or friends only. Tap or click here to find out why you should hide your Venmo payments.

A third option only shows payments to the people you are sending money to. You can set the privacy setting on individual payments or use a default setting for all.

Here’s how to adjust privacy settings in Venmo:

  • Open the app and tap the three-line menu icon at the top right
  • Tap Settings, followed by Privacy
  • Visibility default setting is Public
  • Select Private to keep payments visible only to the sender and recipient

After that, in the same menu, tap on Past Transactions. Select the option to Change All to Private.

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When you send money with Zelle, it goes directly into the other person’s bank account, even if they use a different bank. Some banking apps have even integrated Zelle as a payment option.

The scary thing is Zelle does not offer fraud protection. Once you send the money, the only way to get it back is through a refund from the other person.

While Zelle uses authentication and monitoring to secure payments on both ends, once the money is accepted, that’s it. Think about Zelle the way you think about cash.

To use Zelle, you only need to share your email address and the mobile number tied to your account. The Zelle app does not sell information about user behavior to third parties.

Cash App

Square developed Cash App to offer more functionality than a typical payment app. For example, you can split a utility bill with your roommates or divide the cost of a vacation.

You can also use the app to invest in the stock market and cryptocurrency. Cash App functions similar to a bank account — you even get a debit card of sorts that you can use to make purchases using the money in your Cash App account.

Just link a bank account to your Cash App account, and you can transfer money between the two.

Cash App payments are instant and usually can’t be canceled. If you want your money back, you’ll have to hope for a refund. Cash App does not recommend transactions with strangers.

Cash App transactions are private by default. Only you and the person you are paying can view the transaction between you.

To review your privacy settings on Cash App:

  • Open the app and tap your account icon
  • Tap Privacy & Security
  • Switch off to keep others from finding you through your cashtag


The company that helped make online payments the norm offers no-fee payments to friends and family but does charge you for other transactions. You can use PayPal for transactions with strangers, as no personal information is shared, and the company offers purchase protection and dispute resolution.

This does not mean you should throw money people’s way without taking proper precautions. Once you send money, you cannot cancel or reverse the transaction. Either ask for a refund or contact PayPal and hope it can settle a dispute. This is not guaranteed.

PayPal’s website is secure and encrypted. You can view and edit privacy settings, including permissions you’ve given to other apps and services. You can turn on and off cookies for various functions, though essential cookies are locked.

To adjust your privacy settings in PayPal:

  • Log into your PayPal account and go to Settings
  • Tap Data & Privacy
  • Use Permissions you’ve given to track what data you are sharing with apps and sites you use
  • Adjust Manage your cookies to control how PayPal uses your data

Apple Pay

Apple wants to replace your wallet with its Apple Pay service. This one-step payment lets you pay with your device rather than a credit card. It can also be used to send and receive money.

Simply open your Messages app and tap the Apple Pay button. Enter the amount you want to send and tap Pay, then review and send the payment. You’ll need to confirm using your face or touch IDs or your passcode. The money is deducted from your Apple Cash card or debit card.

You can cancel a payment before it is accepted, but once it goes through, it’s up to the other person to issue a refund if you want the money back. You can contact Apple to open a dispute, though the company encourages you to use the payment feature only with people you trust.

Your transactions are only visible to you, the person you do business with and the bank. Apple doesn’t retain any transaction information.

To see how Apple Pay manages your data:

  • Open Settings on your iOS device
  • Select Wallet & Apple Pay
  • Select See how your data is managed… to read Apple’s privacy policy on Apple Pay

RELATED: How to limit ad tracking on your Apple device

Google Pay

Google Pay is free to use when you send money to family and friends. You can use it to send money through the app or Gmail, or Android Messages. Google Pay is more than a payment app, with insights to track your spending and offers from brands and services you use.

Google Pay has fraud prevention, so you can reach out to the company if you need help with a dispute. The person you send the money to needs to have the Google Pay app, or the money will be refunded to you after a certain amount of time has passed.

Google Pay does not sell your transaction history with third parties or use it to target you with ads. Google will still listen to your private conversations, however.

To check out your Google Pay privacy settings:

  • Open the Google Pay app and select your profile icon
  • Tap Settings
  • Tap Privacy & Security
  • Select Data & personalization to toggle off what Google shares with other companies
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