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Security & privacy

Payment app scam could wipe out your entire balance

There are tons of safety nets in place to protect your banking and credit card information when making purchases online, but it can still be stressful to enter your payment information on a virtual platform. After all, plenty of online scams exist to try and part you from your money.

Take, for example, the recent issue with spam requests for money that were popping up on users’ Venmo accounts. Some of the users who accidentally clicked on these messages would trigger a payment to the scammer in amounts from $1 to $100. Tap or click here to protect yourself from scammers on Venmo.

And that’s just one of many online scams that have been uncovered recently. Peer-to-peer apps like Venmo and Zelle have made it easy to target unsuspecting victims — and some scammers, like the ones below, have become surprisingly sophisticated with their methods.

How scammers use peer-to-peer apps to steal money

There are tons of ways to steal money through digital wallets and websites — and some of them can drain your bank account within seconds. A recent case out of Houston showcases just how hard it can be to spot these scams.

Sakala Lewis had been using cash apps to receive payments for odd jobs like pet sitting or babysitting, according to the Click2Houston story on the case. Lewis told Click2Houston she had never had a problem with these types of apps until a payment made via Cash App was sent to the wrong account.

According to Lewis, it was tough to find the number for Cash App customer service so she Googled it. This is where the real nightmare began. She called the number that popped up and a man answered.

“He was very understanding,” Lewis told consumer expert Amy Davis. He said, “You know, we’ll take care of this. Just give us a moment. We just need to do a test verification.”

But that’s when things get sketchy. The man on the other end of the phone told her she needed to download the Team Viewer app so he could “verify her account was legit.”

Team Viewer, if you aren’t familiar, allows others to access and control your device remotely. The man on the other end of the phone wasn’t associated with Cash App, though. Unsuspecting Lewis downloaded the app, which allowed him to drain her bank account in a matter of minutes.

“He told me where to click on my Cash App. He wasn’t doing anything, but he was telling me where to click,” Lewis said.

Shortly after the “test” was completed, Lewis said she started receiving notifications about money transfers being made out of her account. The scammer on the other end of the phone withdrew nearly $5,800 from her account.

Cash App responded to Click2Houston’s inquiries about the scam, stating you should only contact them through its app or website.

“We are always working to protect our customers, which includes educating them about phishing scams. As a reminder, the Cash App team will never ask customers to send them money, nor will they solicit a customer’s PIN or sign-in code outside of the app. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, you should contact Cash App support through the app or website immediately. For more information on common online scams, please visit https://cash.app/help/us/en-us/6482-recognize-scams.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a scam like this, either. A recent Cash App scam used the app’s popular promotional giveaways to drain victims out of small amounts of money.

In that case, scammers would change usernames and icons to something similar to the official Cash App account and message users that they’d won the giveaway. They would ask for a small payment between $1-$5 via Cash App to “confirm their identity” and then simply disappear after the money was sent.

Other recent scams have involved using promises of free money that’s advertised via fraudulent Google ads. Some scammers have even been using Zelle to phish for bank information.

Tips for avoiding cash app scams

Given how common these scams are, you need to take steps to protect yourself from peer-to-peer payment scams. These include:

  • Avoid interacting with accounts you don’t recognize — especially if they’re telling you that you won money.
  • Check to make sure accounts are verified. Most social media platforms offer verification for businesses, journalists, and other prominent users, so make sure the account that’s contacting you has been verified.
  • Set your p2p apps to private — especially if they have a social media component, like Venmo.
  • Never respond to messages requesting gift cards or payments in return for your “prize.” Real companies don’t ask for these things.
  • Do not give anyone access to your computer or device.
  • Only contact customer service through official channels. Google search results could land you in the hands of a scammer.

Cash App also has some tips to help protect you and your bank account:

  • Only send to people you know or to verified Cash App accounts.
  • Verify the recipient’s name before sending.
  • Double-check the spelling of $Cashtags.
  • Double-check the recipient’s phone number or email for typos.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is be cautious. Use the app’s official channels to contact customer service. Look into any account that requests anything from you and be wary of accounts claiming you’ve won a prize or cash. And be wary of anything that seems too good to be true.

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