Contactless payment: safe for your health, but NOT for your wallet

There’s no denying the COVID-19 pandemic has changed pretty much everything about how we live in 2021.

Even as we approach what we all hope is the beginning of the end of this virus, our quarantine habits and behaviors will undoubtedly be with us for the long haul.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We will hopefully move forward with a renewed appreciation for our health, the health of others, and a useful good practices tool kit to limit the spread of germs and illness. 

I know we all hate the masks and constant hand-sanitizing, but raise your hand if you caught the cold or flu the past two winters.  I know I didn’t.  And with my immune system?  That qualifies as a miracle.

But beyond health and hygiene practices, we’ve embraced new ways of communicating and doing business on a massive scale.  Even the most technophobic among us have had to rely on digital apps and services they’d otherwise avoid like the…well.  You get the picture.

One of the most critical things we’ve had to embrace is finding ways to pay for the things we need WITHOUT making physical contact.  And for that, many of us relied on services like Zelle, Cash App, Venmo, and PayPal to transfer money to vendors or accept money from buyers.

These services are what we call peer-to-peer payment services.  They are simple platforms that allow users to create an account, connect it to a credit card or bank account, and transfer money directly to other users.  It’s a fast, easy, and often instantaneous way to send money to someone else.  And most importantly, it allows us to pay for goods and services without needing to touch a payment machine, touch someone’s bank card, or come into contact with a cashier.

Prior to the pandemic, I would have assuredly told you vendors requiring payment methods like these are the early warning signs of a scam.  Every p2p payment service is different with regards to safeguards against fraudulent payments, but generally, you can think of them like you would think of wiring someone money through Western Union.  In many cases, sending someone money through these services is as good as giving them cash.  Which means if you transfer money to a scammer, there will be very little you can do to recover those funds.  Scammers LOVE that.

But the rules have changed.  All of us, and seniors especially, SHOULD be using electronic payment methods where possible to limit the spread of COVID.  Two years ago, someone REQUIRING risky electronic transfers like this was untrustworthy.  Now, it’s responsible for a seller to refuse in-person cash or check exchange or payment services that require them to show up in person at a physical location to pick up payment.

It’s because of this p2p payment scams have shot straight up to the top of the list among scams affecting seniors.  Not only are more seniors using p2p payment services, but they’re likely new to the p2p payment game.  These new users are among the most vulnerable to the ways scammers use these apps to screw users out of money or goods:

First and foremost, do NOT use these payment services unless you absolutely trust and have vetted the person you’re transacting with.  When it comes to paying someone through one of these apps, know who it is you’re giving your money to.  As we’ve said, few of these services offer any kind of reimbursement if you mistakenly send money to the wrong account or if you send money to someone who doesn’t provide you the items or services you’re paying for.  Verify the legitimacy of the person or the vendor you’re going to pay, confirm their details on whatever app you’re using to pay, and remember anyone can be anyone on the internet.  It is best to only use p2p payment services with people you know—not with mystery vendors on the web.

Most of the creative scams affect those using p2p platforms to RECEIVE money.  Perhaps you’re selling an item or asking someone to pay you for a service you rendered them.

Scammers have several tricks to dodge paying you through these apps:

Fake and stolen credit cards.  A scammer can link these apps to a bogus payment method.  By the time you find out the transaction won’t go through and you won’t receive payment, you may have sent a scammer an item or rendered them a service you can’t get back.

Fake “overpayment” emails.  A scammer can spoof an email from a p2p platform to do one of two things.  They could use it to phish for your login details and gain access to your payment methods OR they could claim someone “overpaid” you for an item, asking you to send a buyer back the overpayment difference.

Canceled payments.  Though some apps, like Zelle, are instantaneous, some take up to several days to process payment.  A scammer can “pay” you for an item or a service, receive that item or service, and then cancel the payment before it processes. 

While social distancing remains a must, there’s no easy way to know who is and is not a scammer using p2p payment.  Unfortunately, in most of these cases, you won’t find out someone is a fraud until after the damage is done. 

Our best advice to limit the damage someone could potentially do to you through these services is to link a credit card rather than a bank account.  While the apps themselves might not offer much in the way of reimbursement, by using credit cards, you can still take advantage of the security measures afforded to you through your credit card to make up for fraudulent exchanges. 

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