Venmo has become the default payment option to millions of Americans, and Venmo scams are getting rampant because of it. Everyday people like you and me are losing their life savings in a matter of minutes by falling to one of many, many Venmo scams.
We listed the 10 most ‘popular’ Venmo scams that you should be suspicious of. But also, what the Venmo company is doing about it, and tips on protecting yourself.
The 10 Most Common Venmo scams:
- Friends requesting money
- Puppy scams
- Money flipping scam
- The Circle Game
- Fake support number
- Romance scam
- Craiglist scams
- Fake apartment rentals
- Venmo in-person scam
- Phishing scam
1. Friends requesting money
This is a frequent scam that is easy to pull off due to Venmo’s public feed feature. A scammer will impersonate your friend by changing their profile photo and their username to ones that your friend uses.
Using information visible in the public feed, the scammer will request money from you and other people that your friend has sent money to in the past.
They will pretend that they urgently need money to resolve an issue or get out of a bad situation. We all like to help a friend out but always double-check the profile sending you this request or contact your friend outside the Venmo platform.
You can tap on the person’s profile to confirm their public transaction history and network information.
2. Puppy scams
We’re suckers for cute puppies and kittens. Trying to buy a new family pet (seriously, why not simply adopt?) can be like venturing into a minefield.
Purebreds can be very expensive, and scammers know that. They count on people’s desire to save money when buying stuff, and therefore, they’re trying to sell you purebred pets at absurdly low prices. To reserve the pet before someone else snags it, they’ll ask for a deposit via Venmo.
The ads of pets that you can find on places such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, for example, often have a sob story behind them with details about their cute and loveable personality. The scammers will put a low price tag and an urgent warning to make you act without thinking it through.
They might even advertise the pet as free if you pay the shipping, just to give the little guy a safe home. When you pay, the scam doesn’t stop there. You’ll get further requests for money for things like vet bills, crating, or inspection costs.
Here’s an example from the FTC website: “I ordered a puppy from there for $750 and then had to pay $1285 for a puppy crate. He was supposed to be delivered yesterday but didn’t arrive, so today they told me to pay another $1800 for travel insurance.”
As you can see, the scammers are incredibly brazen and often try to take advantage of the old “in for a penny, in for a pound” philosophy.
3. Money flipping scam
Another popular scam that has flooded social media like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok is where scammers promise people tenfold, twentyfold, and even a staggering hundredfold return on their investment.
Here’s an example of a message that you could receive: “Send me $100, and in a week, you’ll get $1,000.”
Do people really think that someone will legally or illegally give you all this money for your small upfront amount? It’s mind-blowing stuff what some people fall for. Of course, these kinds of offers could come from people you already know as well.
Sometimes, the scammers pretend to be Venmo customer support or technicians/engineers who can turn $20 into $200 just like that. The scammer will, of course, collect your money but will never pay you back, let alone 10x it.
This scam isn’t exclusive to Venmo; in fact, it’s prevalent on Cash App, Moneygram, and other money transfer services. But apps like Venmo and Zelle are especially prone to scams of this kind. It’s because transfers are instant, and these fintech companies aren’t interested in helping their scammed customers.
4. The Circle Game
Another popular Venmo scam has many different names, including ‘the infinity loom’, ‘the money board’, ‘blessing circle’, ‘the blessing loom’, ‘giving circle’, or my favorite – ‘the mandala game’.
This modern take on the old chain letter guarantees you a significant return for a comparatively small investment. The only thing that’s guaranteed is you losing your money, of course, and even pulling in some of your friends and family so that they can lose some of their money as well.
The FTC is warning people on their website not to fall for this. Here’s how it works.
A person will make a post on social media or even DM you directly with a call to join ‘the circle’ by sending $100 through Venmo or some other instant payment service to the person at the center of an octagon-shaped playing board.
By sending your $100, you get one of the eight spots on the outer ring of the octagon, and if you recruit others to the circle game, you get to move in closer to the middle of the board.
By recruiting more people into the game, you’re expected to land at the center of a playing board and collect $100 from each of eight new recruits on the outer ring.
This is a conventional pyramid scheme where you need to continually recruit more and more people so that older members can get paid.
The FTC advises that if an offer comes to you from a friend, family member, or an unknown person, you should warn them (the FTC). Also, if you’ve paid someone to join this game, contact them at ftc.gov/complaint. Your report can help them protect others from this absurd scam.
5. Fake support number
People running into issues with money transfers or even general Venmo app problems usually contact Venmo customer support via chat, email, or phone. Maybe there was an unknown transaction, or you got double charged. Whatever it is, you google for the Venmo support number, and you click on one of the first search results.
This is precisely what I presume hundreds or even thousands of people did and got scammed by the person on the other side of the line, pretending to be a Venmo customer support member.
The person on the other line will ask you for sensitive login information or even straight-up credit or debit card information and then clean out your Venmo and your bank account. The scammers are doing ‘search poisoning’ to ensure that their fake support numbers rise to the very top of the Google search results.
Although this doesn’t happen so often anymore, always double-check that you’re using the actual contact number.
To protect your account and your money, you need to remember not to talk to anyone on the phone claiming to be with Venmo. Instead, only contact customer service directly through the app, and never give your Venmo pin or sign-in code to anyone.
6. Romance scam
Romance scams reached a record $304 million in losses reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2020. A rise of about 50% from 2019.
Romance scammers will make fake profiles on various social media sites, dating apps, and dating sites. FTC says that the scammers will most often tell you that they live or travel outside of the US. They’re ‘working on an oil rig’, or they’re ‘in the military’, or even serve as ‘doctors for international organization’.
The scammers will ‘fall in love’ with you very quickly and then start asking you to transfer them money via Venmo, Cash App, gift cards, or other similar, irreversible transfers.
They’ll always make up a justification why they can’t meet with you and why they need you to send them money.
Romance scammers often ask for money for the following reasons (according to the FTC’s report):
- pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
- pay for surgery or other medical expenses
- pay customs fees to retrieve something
- pay off gambling debts
- pay for a visa or other official travel documents
The FTC suggests doing a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam.’ Yes, scammers will use real person’s photos, which could be an easy way to determine if the person you’re communicating with is real. But, that might not always be the case.
Social media profiles can be faked so easily. Googling someone can reveal things about this sudden love interest but also doesn’t have to. A person with only a few Facebook friends should immediately raise red flags, but not necessarily.
As you can see, some of the methods of checking fake profiles might or might not help you. The best thing to do is not get carried away and to try using your common sense.
I urge you to read what seem to be hundreds of comments on the FTC’s blog, of people that romance scammers contacted to see their stories. It truly is an amazing read.
7. Craigslist scams
Craigslist can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. There’s such a supply and demand there that there’s no shortage of scammers and their more or less elaborate schemes.
If you are buying or even selling something there, you’re in real danger of losing both your sale item and your money.
As per Craigslist own website, most scam attempts contain one or more of the following in them:
- Refusing to meet face-to-face to do the transaction
- Poor grammar and spelling and vague initial enquires
- Email or text from someone that is not local to your area.
- Venmo, Cash App, Western Union, Money Gram, cashier check, money order, Paypal, Zelle, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee.”
When possible, meet with the seller face-to-face to see and inspect the item in question. Never pay for it or part of it upfront. Also, don’t pay a deposit or a partial payment. It’s easy money for scammers as you aren’t protected by your bank, Craigslist, or Venmo.
If the seller agreed to send you the shipment upfront, make sure you have it in your hands before sending the money. They’ll often tell you that they shipped the thing and that it’s safe for you to transfer money. They go as far as to Photoshop a post office receipt to prove the point. You could also get an empty package. Better safe than sorry.
The Craigslist website offers more examples of scams and some sound advice.
8. Fake apartment rentals
This is a pretty easy scam to pull off and to fall for. Scammers post fake listings of real, previously advertised apartments. They list an amazing price for the would-be renter and then sit back and collect rent deposits and ‘application’ fees. There’s always an urgency involved to make you not think twice because it’s such a steal.
Once you transfer the money via Venmo – it’s gone. The transaction mostly can’t be canceled or money refunded because the scammer disappears.
The pandemic has 10xd these scams as everyone was moving to virtual viewings and online leases.
A dead giveaway of a scam is that the landlord is urging you to put down a deposit fast not to lose the apartment. Real landlords will show you the house in person and take a check or a bank transfer rather than a Venmo payment or wire transfer.
9. Venmo in-person scam
This one’s bold, really bold. But it does happen. It’s not as popular because the scammer doesn’t know whether you have the Venmo app installed on your phone or not.
The scammer will approach you on the street, a parking lot, or somewhere with less dense crowds. They’ll make up a story about how their phone is dead or lost, and they urgently need to contact someone.
At first, they “try” to call someone and say that the call failed. They’ll then ask if they can send a message. It’s at that point that they’ll transfer the money from your Venmo app (or any similar one) to their account. They’ll then quickly close the app or even delete it.
They’re basically fishing for good samaritans that will hand them their phone and have the app installed.
In these modern times, it’s best not to lend your smartphone to a person that you don’t know, as all or most of your sensitive information and apps are in that phone. Not only can someone use it to siphon off money from your account, but they could also potentially take off with the whole thing after you’ve unlocked it and handed it over to them.
10. Phishing scam
These widespread scams target Venmo users mostly by SMS messages but they can and do include emails and phone calls.
An example of an SMS message would be: “Adrian, today July 25th Venmo is hiring 5 people to work from home. Last day to apply! Make $500/day paid to Venmo account” There would also be a link enclosed that would take you to the scammer’s website.
An unsuspecting Venmo user could be tricked into clicking the link that will take them to what looks like exactly like a Venmo login page. Entering your information will compromise your account.
There are many different SMS messages going around and there’s a great chance that you have already received one. They could include a link that will “help” you “fix” your Venmo account or “fix an issue” with a previous payment.
How to use Venmo safely
It’s not hard to use Venmo safely. Here’s expert advice:
- Never google support numbers for any app as the page listed on top could be from scammers.
- Never give your Venmo login info, pin, or card number to anyone.
- Venmo to Venmo payments are instant and usually can’t be canceled. Always have the product in your hands before you transfer money.
- Never click on links in emails or SMS, and if you do, don’t fill in the information.
- Don’t use P2P services like Venmo to buy things from strangers.
- Only transfer money to people you know and always double-check that their username is correct.
- Set up a PIN or fingerprint to make transactions, turn on two-factor authentication, and enable notifications to get notified of any suspicious behavior.
- Be wary of sweepstakes and giveaways.
- If potential product, service, price, or apartment sound too good to be true, they probably are.
- Don’t let strangers handle your phone. If you want to help them, let them dictate the message to you or type in the phone number yourself.
- Leave the mysterious money in your account and report it to the company. Let them return it within the system.
- Always report suspect listing, activity, or person to FTC or authorities.
- Or simply, stop using Venmo.
From the Venmo website:
- Don’t use Venmo to join a pyramid, cash wheel, money circle or other get rich quick scams
- Don’t use Venmo to sell anything to strangers
- Don’t use Venmo to buy anything from anyone you don’t know and trust
Find more tips on fraud and scam protection or report a scam on Fraud.org that works with the FTC.
Can you cancel a Venmo payment?
Canceling a Venmo payment isn’t possible if the account in question is an existing account. A different story is if you sent a payment to an email address or a phone number that hasn’t been registered with Venmo yet. If that’s the case, you can reverse the payment in the ‘Incomplete’ section in the Venmo app.
The only way to get your money back from an already registered Venmo user is to have the recipient send you the money back voluntarily.
Also, Venmo customer support can reverse a payment only with explicit permission from the recipient. The recipient’s account also has to be in good standing, and they still have to have the funds available in their Venmo account.
And, although Venmo payments can’t be reversed, for the most part, they can be disputed. This happens generally when a “buyer” Venmos you the money and you ship them the product you’re selling for instance. After a few days, Venmo reverses the transaction, and your buyer is simply gone.
The problem is that hackers or scammers can move so quickly that by the time you realize what’s happening, both they and the money are already long gone.
When not to use Venmo
Never use Venmo to buy products from people you don’t know or to sell them online. You won’t get any kind of buyer protection and you could potentially lose your money. Venmo was designed for payments between friends and people who trust each other. You can still use it for paying authorized merchants.
Use a credit card as it’s the safest way to buy products. You can dispute charges with the credit card company if you were defrauded, scammed, didn’t get products or services, or they were misrepresented.
Most credit card companies will altogether remove credit card charges if you promptly report the problem. An alternative is to use PayPal as a payment option as it has a powerful Buyer Protection Program. Although, PayPal isn’t devoid of its own scams as well.
If a buyer refuses to accept payment via one of these two options, it’s an instant red flag for you and a potential scam waiting to happen.
What is Venmo doing about it?
Although Venmo is owned by PayPal that has a robust Buyer Protection Program, the same is not true for Venmo. The company is doing very little to protect its users and is hiding behind its terms and conditions which stipulate that you should be using Venmo only to transact with your friends and family.
According to the FTC, Venmo settled a case with them, or rather, PayPal, their parent company did. The issue in question was the public feed that displays ALL transactions of users that don’t toggle the option to have the feed be private. You see, by default, all Venmo payments are available for the general public to see.
There are even websites that display transactions referencing illegal substances. Wired says that “The FTC said Venmo didn’t make it clear that users needed to change multiple settings in order to make their transactions truly hidden.”
So, although Venmo arguably isn’t ready to step up their game, it doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you’re using Venmo, make sure that ALL the security measures are on, like the one that you need to enter your pin to enter the account.
What to do if you have fallen for a Venmo scam?
In the unfortunate event that you’ve fallen for a Venmo scam, you should immediately change your Venmo PIN and report the incident to Venmo support and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
How to contact Venmo customer support?
The fastest way to contact Venmo customer service is to use the chat function in the Venmo app. They’re available Monday to Friday, 7:00 am–1:00 am ET, and Saturday to Sunday, 9:00 am–11:00 pm ET.
You can also call them at (855) 812-4430 (Monday to Friday, 10:00 am–6:00 pm ET), or send an email using the form on their website.
Read also: Cash App vs Venmo
Adrian Volenik is a fintech enthusiast who loves testing and reviewing digital banking apps and financial products in general. How many digital banking accounts can one man have? Not enough, if you ask Adrian. As his wallet will soon explode if he doesn’t cut back on the number of cards.