Risks of using a peer-to-peer payment app: What are the warning signs?

What you need to know before you use payments apps to send money.

Peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and Zelle make paying for things a breeze. But there’s a catch: Many of these apps don’t offer the same level of protection against scams that most credit cards do, making them the perfect payment method for online scammers to take advantage of.

Consumer Reports reveals the warning signs and what you can do to make sure you don’t fall victim.

Peer-to-peer payment apps aren’t banks or credit cards, so when you pay someone directly using one, there is no way to recover the money, a problem Consumer Reports says happens way too often.

In an AARP survey of Americans 18 and older, more than half of respondents incorrectly thought they could reclaim money sent in error when using peer-to-peer payment apps.

Early Warnings Service, the network operator behind Zelle, told CR that “Consumers should only send money to people they know and trust when using Zelle. Treat it like cash, and beware of ‘too good to be true’ situations.”

Until laws are changed, consumers are going to have to be really careful when they use peer-to-peer payment apps.

CR has some P2P tips to help protect yourself:

  • Send money only to people you know and trust.
  • Exercise caution when paying businesses with P2P apps.
  • And if you have any suspicion of something being a scam, go to the Better Business Bureau’s “Scam Tracker” website. It can give you a better idea if the product or service you’re looking for is an easy scam target.

Consumer Reports warns not to use a P2P app for business purposes. The terms of service for most apps prohibit the use of them for purchasing goods and services. Look instead for a payment app specifically created for business users, like Square Cash for Business or PayPal.