Money Monday: Why “free” Money from Venmo – Isn’t

John Scott Unlock Technologies staff writer

Transferring cash on Venmo is easy - but beware of scams.

Key takeaways

  • Venmo, owned by PayPal, is a mobile payment service used by tens of millions.

  • You should always be suspicious if you receive unexpected money from a stranger.

  • The best and safest strategy is to ignore the transfer, and report it to Venmo.

If someone sends you money on Venmo for no particular reason, it’s likely your first instinct to assume someone made a mistake. You wonder if you should send the cash back. We’ll explain why that may not be your best option, because if you get unexpected money, someone may be in the process of scamming you.

How the Venmo scam works

You open the app and find someone transferred 500 dollars into your account. Next, you get a message that says something like, “Oops! My mistake! I’m so sorry. I thought you were someone else. Can you please send it back to me?”

Stop right there.

Indeed, the person may truly have made a mistake. But we’ll tell you how honest mistakes can be fixed – and not by you.

Here’s what the Better Business Bureau says:

Scammers connect stolen credit cards to Venmo and use them to transfer money to unsuspecting users. If you send the money back to the scammer, they will delete the stolen credit card from their account and add their own card in its place. Then, the money you are sending will go on to their personal card. Eventually, the stolen funds will be removed from your account, and you will be out that money.

Venmo’s not the only platform where this con is practiced. Apps like Zelle, PayPal and even Apple Pay report it's happened on their networks.

One strategy which can protect you is a tried and true one – don’t respond, don’t acknowledge, don’t do anything.

There are many ways to make safe mobile payments.

Preying on your good nature

The criminal may aggressively message you to send the money back. You’ll possibly wonder if it’s a legit request. The person might say the money is going to a sick relative or it’s a car payment. It’s not smart to engage. If the sender did in fact make a mistake, they can work with Venmo to take that money out of your account and return it to its rightful owner. There is no way for us to manually decline, refuse or cancel a payment.

5 ways to protect yourself if you use Venmo.

Mobile payment apps are great to use for splitting the dinner check, paying a friend back for the round of golf they picked up, or any number of possibilities. It’s important to remember to check transfers into your account very carefully. Remember that criminals could use your friend’s photo and Venmo handle, but maybe there’s a typo, or an extra word/letter in the profile. That’s a red flag that something’s not right.

To protect yourself even more, make sure your security settings are as tight as they can be, and connect a credit card (instead of a debit card) to your account.

What if you are the person who sent money to someone by mistake? We're human - it happens. Be proactive; contact your credit card company and Venmo.

The blog articles published by Unlock Technologies are available for informational purposes only and not considered legal or financial advice on any subject matter. The blogs should not be used as a substitute for legal or financial advice from a licensed attorney or finance professional. Links in our blogs to third-party websites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement of any products, services, or opinions of the corporation, organization, or individual. Unlock Technologies bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links.

John Scott

Unlock Technologies staff writer