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Watch out for the Venmo money request scam

Thieves are using digital wallets to make fleecing their victims easier

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Photo (C) Andranik Hakobyan - Getty Images
Scammers have recently revived an old scheme, but with a new twist. They’re using Venmo to trick people into sending them money.

In the past, scammers might send out random emails pretending to be a friend in an emergency situation who's in need of cash. “Hey, someone stole my wallet and I’m traveling. Can you wire me $200?” the email might ask.

It wasn’t that effective because it couldn’t be specific, and many would-be victims could see through it. But now scammers have tapped into the money-sharing app Venmo and it’s a brand new -- and dangerous -- ball game.

Here’s how it works: the request for emergency cash comes through the Venmo app. It’s from someone you know and have sent money to in the past.

Since the message comes from a Venmo account that has your friend’s username and photo, you don’t question it. But if you look closely, the user name is one character off from your friend’s real account.

Using the public feed to find victims

By using the information that is visible in Venmo’s public feed, the scammer can identify people who have traded money in the past. The scammer changes their Venmo username to closely match your friend’s profile name and downloads their profile photo.

Instead of just sending out random emails, the scammer can choose a specific target and narrowly tailor the approach, making the scheme more believable and more dangerous. 

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that this updated scam is just one of many that target people who use digital wallet apps, such as PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, and Apple Pay. 

“Be aware that unlike credit cards, many digital wallet vendors will not shoulder the cost of fraud,” the BBB warns. “If you pay scammers using a digital wallet, you may not be successful in getting the company to reimburse you.”

What to do

There are several ways Venmo users can protect themselves from this scam. The most obvious is to contact your friend directly to confirm whether a money request is real. Use email or text to inquire about their situation. 

Another tool is the privacy settings tab. Keep your transactions private and away from prying eyes. That will reduce your risk of becoming a target. If you need to change your privacy settings, here is how to do it.

Also, check your account settings to learn if you can turn on additional security measures. Available protections may include things like multi-factor authentication, requiring a PIN, or using fingerprint recognition like Touch ID.

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