HOUSTON – Peer-to-peer payment apps like Zelle, Venmo and the Cash App are very popular, even more so during the pandemic because you can exchange money without ever handling cash and coins. But if you’re not careful, you could fall for a scam that could drain your bank account in seconds.
Sakala Lewis uses all of the major payment apps to collect money from people when she does babysitting or pet sitting. She had never had a problem with them until she needed to contact someone with Cash App about a payment that was sent to the wrong account.
“It was a Saturday,” Sakala recounted. “I was with my kids. I was with my mom.”
Like so many of us, Sakala was multitasking. When she couldn’t find a phone number for Cash App on the app, she Googled it. She dialed the number that popped up and she says the man who answered seemed helpful.
“He was very understanding,” she explained to consumer expert Amy Davis. "He said, “You know, we’ll take care of this. Just give us a moment. We just need to do a test verification.”
He told her the test verification required her to download the Team Viewer app so he could quote “verify her account was legit.”
“He told me where to click on my Cash App. He wasn’t doing anything, but he was telling me where to click,” Sakala said.
A few seconds into the so-called test, Sakala started getting notifications of money transfers.
“I saw notifications for $250, for $999, for $2,000, for $500,” she said. "So, I went to my bank account and he was saying, 'Ma’am, you need to stay on Cash App. Please go back to Cash App. Don’t leave Cash App.”
Team Viewer is an app that lets others control your device remotely. The man on the other end of the line wasn’t with Cash App at all but in less than five minutes, he nearly depleted Sakala’s bank account.
“I’m screaming. I’m yelling. I’m upset,” Sakala said, recalling the incident from early August. “He’s calm and he’s saying, ‘We’re gonna figure it out.’ I asked to speak to a manager. She gets on the phone. And she does the exact same thing.”
In all, the scammers took nearly $5,800 from her account. Sakala closed the app and deleted it from her phone. Then she called her bank to dispute the transactions.
Cash App response
Cash App is aware of the scam and says you should only contact them through its app or website.
“We are always working to protect our customers, which includes educating them about phishing scams. As a reminder, the Cash App team will never ask customers to send them money, nor will they solicit a customer’s PIN or sign-in code outside of the app. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, you should contact Cash App support through the app or website immediately. For more information on common online scams, please visit https://cash.app/help/us/en-us/6482-recognize-scams.”
Moral of the story
Sakala was able to get all of her money back by disputing the transactions with Chase Bank. These payment apps are very convenient, but they can also be risky if you pay the wrong person or need to speak directly to someone in customer service. Many times, you’re out of luck.