There used to be a time when one roommate split the cost of rent with another by writing a check. Who still owns a checkbook these days? Of course, those days are nearly long gone, in large part thanks to “peer to peer” (P2P) mobile payment apps, like Venmo, Zelle, or Cash App. Now with a simple click on an app, you can transfer your friend money for brunch before you even leave the table. Yet for all their convenience, P2P mobile payment apps could cost you a couple of bucks or more if you’re not on the lookout for things like fraud. The good news is that there are some straightforward ways to protect yourself.
You likely have one of these apps on your phone already. If so, you’re among the many. It’s estimated that 70% of adults in the U.S. use mobile payment apps like these. And chances are that you have more than just the one. Only 25% of adults in the U.S. use just a single payment app.
Yet with all those different apps come different policies and protections associated with them. So, if you ever get stuck with a bum charge, it may not always be so easy to get your money back.
With that, here are seven quick tips for using your P2P mobile payment apps safely.
1. Add extra protection with your face, finger, or PIN.
In addition to securing your account with a strong password, go into your settings and set up your app to use a PIN code, facial ID, or fingerprint ID. (And make sure you’re locking your phone the same way too.) This provides an additional layer of protection in the event your phone is stolen or lost and someone, other than you, tries to make a payment with it.
2. Get a request or make a test before you pay in full.
What’s worse than sending money to the wrong person? When paying a friend for the first time, have them make a payment request for you. This way, you can be sure that you’re sending money to the right person. With the freedom to create account names however one likes, a small typo can end up as a donation to a complete stranger. To top it off, that money could be gone for good!
Another option is to make a test payment. Sending a small amount to that new account lets both of you know that the routing is right and that a full payment can be made with confidence.
3. You can’t always issue a “hold” or “stop payment” with mobile payment apps.
Bye, bye, bye! Unlike some other payment methods, new mobile payment apps don’t have a way to dispute a charge, cancel a payment, or otherwise use some sort of recall or retrieval feature. If anything, this reinforces the thought above—be sure that you’re absolutely making the payment to the right person.
4. When you can, use your app with a credit card.
Credit cards offer a couple of clear advantages over debit cards when using them in association with mobile payment apps (and online shopping for that matter too). Essentially, they can protect you better from fraud:
- Debit cards immediately remove cash from your account when a payment is made, whereas credit card payments appear as charges—which can be contested in the case of fraud.
- In the U.S., if your credit card is lost or stolen, you can report the loss and you will have no further responsibility for charges you didn’t make. Additionally, liability for each card lost or stolen is $50. Debit cards don’t enjoy these same protections.
5. Fraudulent charge … lost or stolen card? Report it right away.
Report any activity like this immediately to your financial institution. Timing can be of the essence in terms of limiting your liabilities and losses. For additional info, check out this article from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that outlines what to do if your debit or credit card is stolen and what your liabilities are.
Also, note the following guidance from the FTC on payment apps:
“New mobile apps and forms of payment may not provide these same protections. That means it might not always be easy to get your money back if something goes wrong. Make sure you understand the protections and assurances your payment services provider offers with their service.”
6. Watch out for cybercrooks cashing in on mobile payment app scams.
It’s sad but true. Crooks are setting up all kinds of scams that use mobile payment apps. A popular one involves creating fake charities or posing as legitimate ones and then asking for funds by mobile payment. To avoid getting scammed, check and see if the charity is legit. The FTC suggests researching resources like Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or, GuideStar.
Overall, the FTC further recommends the following to keep yourself from getting scammed:
- Review the app’s fraud protection policies and understand whether and how you can recover funds if a problem arises.
- Be wary of any business that only accepts P2P payment apps or pre-paid debit card payments. Consider this a red flag.
- Never send P2P payments to, or accept payments from, someone you don’t know.
- Don’t use P2P payment apps for purchasing goods or services. As noted above, you may not get the consumer protections a credit or debit card can offer.
7. Protect your phone
With so much of your life on your phone, getting security software installed on your it can protect you and the things you keep on your phone. Whether you’re an Android owner or iOS owner, mobile security software can keep your data, shopping, and payments secure.
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