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Venmo, Zelle, and Cash App are being used to drain bank accounts, says DA

Published Jan 25th, 2024 6:51PM EST
Watch out for scams involving Zelle.
Image: Zelle

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As convenient as mobile payment apps may be for online shopping and paying back friends or family members, they can also pose a severe risk if you aren’t careful. To that point, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent letters to Venmo, Zelle, and Cash App this week demanding increased protections for users amid a growing flurry of scams and crimes.

Here’s what Bragg said in his letters, which you can read on the Manhattan DA website: “These crimes involve an unauthorized user gaining access to unlocked devices and then draining bank accounts of significant sums of money, making purchases with mobile financial applications, and using financial information from the applications to open new accounts.”

If you have any of these apps on your phone, you know how easy they are to use. While there are guardrails to protect users from dangerous scams and fraudulent payments, criminals have continued to find ways to trick people out of their money. Bragg highlighted a few very troubling incidents concerning peer-to-peer payment apps in his letters.

Bragg recalled a series of thefts in Los Angeles last year where people were held at knifepoint while their bank accounts were drained through Venmo. Then, there was a woman in Orlando who was robbed of thousands of dollars after letting a child borrow her phone.

In addition to applauding Apple’s recently released Stolen Device Protection feature, which is currently in beta for iOS devices, Bragg provided a list of recommendations for mobile financial applications. He suggested the companies should add a second password specifically for their apps, impose lower limits on daily transfers, require wait times and secondary verification for large transfers, and better monitor accounts for unusual activity.

All three companies provided statements to Newsweek regarding Bragg’s letters:

Venmo: “[PayPal takes] the safety and security of our customers and their information very seriously. In addition to proactively leveraging sophisticated fraud detection tools, manual investigations, and partnering closely with law enforcement agencies to protect our customers against common scams, we have several options in place to enable enhanced layers of security and protection directly within our apps.”

Zelle: “Less than one tenth of one percent of transactions are reported as fraud or scams, and that percentage keeps getting smaller.”

Cash App: “[We remain] committed to building trust with our customers and investing in areas that help build a safe and secure platform.” The San Francisco-based company said that it works “proactively and diligently to safeguard our customer’s money and mitigate against the risk of fraud on our platform through a combination of preventative controls like multi-factor authentication, account transaction limits, fraud detection, and consumer education.”

Notably, both Cash App and Zelle have published videos about common scams in an attempt to give their users the tools they need to keep their money safe:

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.