You’ve been using the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo to transfer money between your friends and family for a while without incident, when suddenly a payment for $1,000 from a complete stranger appears in your account, along with a message: “omg I sent that to the wrong person can you please please please return it to me?”
What do you do?
Thinking about how sick you would feel if you had accidentally sent such a large amount to the wrong person, someone you didn’t know, you might be inclined to send the money back. However, it is very likely that you are about to be the victim of a scam that will leave you a thousand dollars in the hole.
Here’s how it works: the stranger will use stolen credit card data to load a Venmo account, then send money to an intended victim at random, along with the message pleading for the funds to be returned. In the meantime, the stolen credit card is removed from the scammers Venmo account, which is then linked to a bank account controlled by the scammer.
If the victim returns the funds, they are immediately deposited into the bank account and withdrawn. Meanwhile, the credit card data theft is discovered and the destination of those stolen funds—the victim’s Venmo account—is charged back for the amount originally sent by the scammer.
You might even notice that this is just a high-tech version of the old counterfeit check scheme: “take this money, then send it back to me.”
So…what should you do if a large deposit from a total stranger shows up?
First, ignore the messages. Use Venmo itself to rectify the problem by creating a new support ticket. Indicate that you did not request these funds, and that you are concerned about fraud. From there, let Venmo handle it.
Whatever you do, don’t try to take the money. The theft will be discovered at some point, and you will be on the hook for those funds. Remember: they didn’t come from the scammer. They came from a victim who had their credit card information stolen. You could just ignore the funds and leave them in your Venmo wallet, but it’s best to be proactive and contact the company with your concerns.