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Security & privacy

Fake customer support scam is wiping out bank accounts – don’t fall for it!

We all make online or app-based transactions from time to time, but there’s a lot at risk when you share your personal or financial information with strangers. After all, tons of scams have been identified over the last few months, and people across the country continue to lose money by falling for them.

The real kicker about this uptick in scam activity is that it isn’t limited to one or two sites. Thieves are preying on people using any avenue possible: websites, robocalls, peer-to-peer (p2p) apps and emails, just to name a few. Worried about being scammed on P2P apps? Tap or click here to protect yourself from scammers on Venmo.

These scams are likely to continue as we lead up to the 2020 election and as COVID rages on. While you may know the warning signs of scams, your friends and family may not be aware of the issues. You need to help arm them with information so that no one gets taken for a ride.

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

We told you about an issue before where 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.

RELATED: Check this list of phones that are vulnerable to being hacked

Since then, similar scams have been uncovered — and people are continuing to lose money because they aren’t aware of the issues. The problem is there are tons of ways to steal money through digital wallets and websites — and some of them can drain your bank account within seconds.

One recent example involves a woman who found herself homeless after her account was drained. The problems began when a Phoenix woman received an alert that something was wrong with her Cash App account. If you aren’t familiar, Cash App is a p2p app that lets you send or receive payments, much like Venmo or PayPal.

Out of an abundance of caution, the woman searched online and found Cash App’s toll-free number, which she called to find out what was wrong. The only problem is it wasn’t Cash App’s number — it was a scammer preying on unsuspecting Cash App users. In fact, Cash App doesn’t have a phone number for customer support.

The man on the other end of the line had the woman download an app that gave him remote access to her account. He then drained it of thousands of dollars.

Another Cash App user was recently scammed out of her last $166 by a similar scheme, too. In that case, thieves preyed on a teacher out of Fort Worth, Texas, who’d found a fraudulent charge posted to her account.

The woman searched the number for Cash App customer service and got the scam line instead. She called it, downloaded the app she was told to download and then watched as her account was drained of her last dollar.

These new cases have prompted a new scam alert from the Better Business Bureau about the issue. This is in addition to the warning that was issued last month over a similar case that we told you about.

In that case, 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 said it was tough to find the number for Cash App customer service so she Googled it, called, and a man answered.

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.” Unsuspecting Lewis downloaded the app, which allowed him to drain her bank account in a matter of minutes. In total, the scammer withdrew nearly $5,800 from her account.

It’s not just Cash App that’s having issues with this type of scam, though. Scammers will prey on users of other peer-to-peer apps, too. According to a recent article from The New York Times, peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo or Cash App have fraud rates that are three to four times higher than traditional payment methods.

The report states that these scams appear to have surged in recent months as more people use the apps. Further complicating the issue is the apps’ instantaneous transactions mean Venmo and Cash App only have a short window of time to determine if a transaction is fraudulent.

Other recent P2P scams include a Cash App scam that 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.

RELATED: 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.

When it comes to Cash App, it’s important to understand that there is no direct line to contact Cash App, aside from an automated line. Here is the official link to sign in to your Cash App account if you need support.

You can further protect yourself when using Cash App if you:

  • 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.

You also need to take the time to report any scam you come across. The BBB’s Scam Tracker will give you info on scams and has a bright red button you can use to report scams you encounter. Make sure you include all of the details of the scam so that others can avoid being taken for a ride.

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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