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  • 10/28/2023
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Beware Third-Party App Scams

Do you use Zelle, Venmo or another payment app? Some of the latest scams involve victims being tricked into revealing personal info or allowing access to their phones. We’ve got tips to help!

Scammers are experts at hijacking our favorite conveniences for their schemes, and third-party app scams are no exception. These scams can be difficult to spot and have already conned millions of unsuspecting victims. In fact, according to a report published by ACI Worldwide, third-party app scams, also known as Authorized Push Payment (APP) scams, are the number one fraud threat around the world. And with their popularity rising, the scam risk for every consumer is very real. 

There are several variations of the third-party app scam. Let’s start by taking a look at scams that con the victim into downloading a bogus payment app. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to protect yourself. 

How these scams play out

Victims of third-party app scams can be swindled into downloading a bogus app through one of these schemes:

  1. The bogus withdrawal notice. Here, a target receives an email allegedly from a third-party app, like Venmo or Zelle, claiming that a large withdrawal will soon be made from the target’s account. The email helpfully includes a number for the victim to call to contest the withdrawal. Unfortunately, when the victim calls the number, a scammer impersonating a bank or credit union rep instructs them to download an app to give the “rep” access to their phone. When the victim does so, the scammer proceeds to empty the victim’s account into their own. 
  2. The look-alike app. Here, a victim unknowingly downloads an app owned by a scammer, believing it’s a popular mobile payment app, like Cash App or Zelle. Unfortunately, by downloading the app, the victim is giving the scammer direct access to their funds and sensitive information.

Protect yourself

Keep yourself safe from third-party app scams with these precautionary measures:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Use official app stores, like the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, to find the apps you need. These platforms have security measures in place to detect and remove malicious apps from being offered.
  • Carefully check the URL of the app you’re downloading to ensure it’s the authentic site. 
  • Before downloading an app, check its reviews and ratings. Look for any suspicious patterns, such as a large number of recent positive reviews that seem fake. Genuine apps will usually have a consistent track record of positive reviews over time.
  • Research the app and its developer or the company behind it. If there is limited or no information available, you may be looking at a scammer’s app.
  • Pay attention to the permissions the app requests during installation. If an app asks for unnecessary access to sensitive data or features, it might be malicious.
  • Regularly update your operating system and app versions. Developers often release security patches to fix vulnerabilities that scammers may exploit.
  • Install reputable mobile security apps that can help detect and block suspicious activity on your device.
  • Be cautious of phishing attempts. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or providing sensitive data unless you are certain of the website’s legitimacy.
  • Be skeptical of "too good to be true" offers. If an app promises unbelievable rewards or benefits, it’s likely a scam.
  • Review your billing statements. Regularly check your app store purchase history and credit card/bank statements for any unauthorized charges.
  • Report suspicious apps to the app store and relevant authorities.
  • Educate yourself. Stay informed about the latest scams and security threats related to third-party apps. Awareness is your best defense against potential risks.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you have fallen for a third-party app scam, and you’ve sent money to a scammer, reach out to the app as soon as possible. Cash App recommends chatting through their app for the quickest service or calling 800-969-1940 to speak to a representative. For Venmo, open a chat through their app for the quickest response or give them a call at 855-812-4430. If your scam was employed through PayPal, you can report it online through their Resolution Center or call the company at 888-221-1161. Finally, if you’ve used Zelle to send the money, you can chat with them on their site or give them a call at 844-428-8542.

Third-party app scams can cost victims their money and their security. Use the tips outlined here to stay safe. 

All information presented on this page is for educational purposes only and doesn’t constitute tax, legal, or accounting advice. It is to be considered as general information, not recommendations. Please consult with an attorney or tax professional for guidance.
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