Money transfer apps including Venmo, Cash App and PayPal have surged in popularity during the pandemic as people seek safe, contactless ways to send and receive money. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the limitations of these payment platforms or how they can put someone’s finances at risk.
“You’ve got to make sure that you’re doing the right things,” says James E. Lee, chief operating officer for the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. “Because if there is a weak point in these kinds of services, it is that your behavior may make it less secure.”
Mobile payment apps allow people to transfer money to others quickly, often for free. They may be downloaded to a phone or other mobile device or accessed online. Some payment systems are available via social media, e-mail accounts or other apps.
Apps such as Venmo and Cash App are known as “peer-to-peer” platforms because they’re designed to facilitate transfers among friends and family. Other systems, including Samsung Pay, are meant for business transactions, such as paying a merchant online or at a register. A few options, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal, can be used for both.
Even before the pandemic, 79% of U.S. adults used mobile payment apps, according to a NerdWallet survey in January. Since stay-at-home orders hit, use of the apps has soared.
Many people assume their payment apps offer protections similar to those of credit or debit cards, but that may not be the case, says Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs for AARP.
For example, about half of U.S. adults incorrectly believe that they could reverse a payment made through a peer-to-peer platform, according to a November AARP survey.
Payment apps usually protect you against unauthorized transactions, but not necessarily against other fraud — and that can be true even if you link to a debit or credit card that otherwise would offer such protections. Many peer-to-peer systems specifically warn people not to pay individuals or businesses they don’t know, Stokes says.
If you’re doing business with a merchant you don’t know, use an app built for such transactions, such as PayPal, which offers dispute resolution and purchase protection.
Lee recommends reviewing an app’s security, fraud and privacy policies before installing. He also recommends using unique, complex passwords and turning on facial recognition and pass code features.
With proper precautions, feel free to use mobile payment apps, Lee says. They can be more secure than traditional payment methods because your information isn’t exposed during the transaction.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lizweston.