Zelle? Venmo? Are you familiar with these? Do you use them?
Regardless of your answer, they are systems that can make the transfer of money more convenient, and all you need is a bank account, credit card and cellphone. In themselves, they are not fraudulent and may serve a crucial role in dealing with emergencies that require that money be moved quickly.
Zelle and Venmo are identified as “peer-to-peer” payment systems. Zelle was created by several major banks, while Venmo is part of PayPal. Both systems require registration: you can often sign up for Zelle through your bank or credit union and receive or use funds in your own accounts; Venmo conducts business between Venmo accounts/balances.
Are these money transfer systems fast? Very! A money transfer takes only a couple of minutes. Zelle withdraws and deposits money into an existing bank or brokerage account. Venmo uses PayPal to do the same thing, and if you are making a purchase but do not have sufficient funds, Venmo debits the credit card linked to the account. Generally, no fee is charged for transactions, but as with everything else, check with the system being used before doing anything.
So far, this seems to be a harmless way to do business. It can be very convenient when dealing with friends or family to get money from one place to another, but as Zelle and Venmo become more popular, use by criminals increases. In fact, the FBI reports that since inception three or four years ago, scammers increased their use of the payment systems due to the speed of money transfers, ease of use and anonymity.
So, what scams are using Zelle and Venmo? Almost all of them: fake prizes, tech support, romance, buying or selling goods and services, friend or family member in need, get-rich-quick scams, check scams, charity scams.
How to avoid becoming a victim? Think before you click!
As with most scams, don’t let emotion govern your behavior. With Zelle and Venmo, understand that money transfers are permanent and occur as soon as you make the authorization. If you realize that a scam has occurred, report it immediately to the bank or credit union involved.
While they cannot stop the transfer, they may be able to reimburse you for the loss. If the institution does not assist you, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (cfpb.gov).
If you fall victim to a money transfer scam, report it. There is no guarantee you will get your money back, but the report information may aid law enforcement and the transfer services in apprehending criminals and improving the services — FBI (IC3.gov), or Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov). Also, consider filing a report with AARP (aarp.org/fraud) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org/scamtracker). Both organizations track and report scams nationwide.
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