Empower Blog

August 03, 2022

Avoid Scams When Using Money-Sharing Apps

Fraud and Security

This article was recently published in CommunityAmerica's "Let's Talk Money" section of the Kansas City Star.


Modern money apps such as Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle have taken the world by storm. The inconvenience of not having cash to split the check at dinner, or the stress of getting a check to your landlord in time to pay rent each month has become a thing of the past. In today’s world, we find ourselves paying our peers through these apps on a weekly basis, and financial institutions have partnered with them to make the process even easier. As technology progresses, so will these platforms as they integrate further into our everyday lives.

While these apps are incredibly convenient, their growing popularity also poses a threat to your financial security. Unfortunately, people may try to take advantage of you or the technology, so you should educate yourself. Below we’ve shared some common scams and misconceptions around using these platforms, as well as helpful ways to protect yourself from falling victim to fraud.

Red Flags for Suspicious Activity

The kind of attacks fraudsters use to scam individuals changes daily; however, here are a few scams to be aware of that we see occurring most often.

Impersonation of Zelle or Credit Union Employee

Fraudsters have learned how to spoof numbers to make it appear that someone from your financial institution is calling you to investigate suspicious activity, asking for your debit card and PIN, or online banking credentials.

There is never a time that CommunityAmerica would reach out to you for this information, as we already have access to it in our system. It is important that you never provide these details to an unknown source, whether it is on the phone or through email. If you are unsure if the request is legitimate, hang up and give us a call on your own. This will ensure you are in contact with an actual CommunityAmerica Credit Union employee.

Facebook Marketplace Scams

This scam targets individuals selling items on Facebook Marketplace, who typically use these apps to collect or send payments for their items. A purchaser will contact you, luring you in by pretending to be interested in purchasing your item for sale. Once you establish how they will purchase the item, they will most often overpay you. In return, they will then ask you to refund them for what they overpaid before you can even access or verify the payment.

You will then receive a fraudulent email that appears to be from the app you are doing business through, confirming what the fraudster has explained to you - that the purchaser has overpaid, and you are committed to refund whatever they overpay before you have access to your funds. The catch is that the payment they sent you is not legitimate, which leads to their goal of you “refunding” them a certain amount, but never actually receiving any payment into your account.

The best way to spot this scam is to hover above the email address sending you the overpayment email. While the content of the email may appear legit, confirming the email address will allow you to see if it is a spoof account. Fraudulent emails are typically sent from an AOL or Gmail account.

If you are ever unsure if a transaction or communication within an app is legitimate, you can always contact the app itself for guidance and verification. Remember, if someone really does overpay you, they can dispute that charge on their own.

Kitten/Puppy Scams

This specific scam involves a fraudster pretending to sell kittens or puppies online. They often request a deposit or payment, and then you, the purchaser, never receive the animal.

It is always best to meet up with a seller in person to verify there is an actual animal for sale. We would suggest making these kinds of purchases through vendors you know and trust.

Misconceptions of Using These Apps

Users often underestimate the vantage scammers have when transferring money within these apps. Here are a few misconceptions people often have when it comes to fraud:
  • Assuming you can report fraud and get your money back: While you can report fraud or dispute a charge, there is no guarantee you will recoup the funds.
  • Presuming the app or platform will reverse the payment: Even if you send money to the wrong person, these apps cannot reverse your payment because you authorized the payment.
  • Not viewing these apps as real money: These types of payments are equivalent to cash. Once your funds have been sent, you most likely cannot get them back.

While apps and financial institutions are putting in diligent effort to protect their members, it is still wise to do your due diligence to protect yourself from perpetrators.

How to Protect Yourself

As mentioned before, the biggest way to keep your finances secure when using these apps is to be alert to your situation.

Here are a few other ways you can avoid being scammed out of money:
  • Meet up with the seller in public.
  • Do your research and read online reviews of the seller.
  • Consider other payment methods, such as cash.

Here are some questions to consider before sending money through any of these apps:
  • Is this offer out of the ordinary or too good to be true?
  • Does this offer require me to send money to someone I am unfamiliar with?
  • Am I being asked to return money in any way and for any reason?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, that is a good sign you should pause the transaction to do some further investigating.

While these modern money apps can make our lives easier, learning how to use them safely can prevent you from becoming a victim. Visit our Empower blog to learn more about protecting yourself from fraud. Zelle also offers tips and resources for keeping your money safe while using their app.

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud, do not hesitate to contact us at 913.905.7000, via live chat in online banking, or by visiting your local branch. Our entire support team is ready to help you determine if you have been a victim of fraud and help you navigate the next steps to take. You can also visit the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Protection Bureau to report fraud or file a complaint.
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About the Author
amanda roberts
Amanda Roberts

Anti-Money Laundering Investigator

Amanda Roberts is an Anti-Money Laundering Investigator at CommunityAmerica Credit Union. Her specialty is utilizing voice biometrics and recognition to prevent fraud related to identity theft and account takeover.