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How Safe are Paypal, Venmo, Zelle, and Cash App?

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Our digital lives and new work-from-home lifestyles have made it more common than ever to rely on apps and devices. It was inevitable we’d end up exchanging money using our phones.

Apps like Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, and Cash App all let you send and receive money from your phone or computer. These apps have been around for a while, but you may be resistant to use them out of concern for your cash. How safe are these mobile payment service apps? 

Whenever money is involved, there’s a natural concern about scams, schemes, and potential hacking attempts. The safety of these apps can vary from app to app. Having apps attached to your bank account can be a cause for concern. After all, you don’t want your bank account cleaned out because you sent someone your half of a dinner check.

The security challenges are two-fold. Firstly, are these apps themselves safe from attack and able to protect your information? Secondly, is your money safe from scams, mistakes, and fraud when using these apps?

Let’s look at the top four mobile payment systems and a run-down of each to see how safe they are to use.

Paypal

Paypal is one of the first forms of electronic payment. It was started in 1999 and acquired by a company owned by Elon Musk in March 2000. It was later acquired by eBay and went public in 2002.

Slowly but surely PayPal has become a sound digital alternative to banking. It allows you to not only send and receive money via your computer or mobile device, but you can also keep a standing balance in your account. You can even open up a line of credit with Paypal. The Paypal credit cards let you manage money, credit, and even cryptocurrency. 

Is Paypal Safe? 

Paypal is cleared for merchants, sellers, and personal use. It’s also growing to provide more payment options like syncing up with cryptocurrency, offering credit cards and loans, and trying to meet banks where they are. As such, there are more features for fraud protection. As a public traded entity, there’s always the potential for attempted data breaches. Also, not every cent on Paypal is FDIC insured, like banks, so you are not fully protected from all cases of fraud. 

If you sign up for the Paypal Cash Card you are eligible for FDIC-pass-through insurance where some of your money is insured. Paypal does have payment protection and does secure payments for purchasers. If you purchase something and do not receive it, you have a fraudulent charge and can reach out to customer service for help. But there aren’t guarantees that you will get money back for all types of purchases. 

Paypal is also committed to security and even has its own bug bounty program to help eliminate security leaks by incentivizing white-hat hackers to help them shore up any potential safety concerns. 

Can I get scammed on Paypal?

As the largest company on this list, Paypal does have the potential for scammers who can take advantage of certain Paypal refund policies. Be sure to keep an eye out for fake addresses or people who make mistakes if they’re purchasing from you using Paypal. Their negligence could cost you, as people can use the chargeback feature and you’ll be eligible for any charges. 

Tips to Stay Safe on Paypal

You should, whenever possible, use your credit card rather than a debit card to avoid too much access to your bank account. 

Avoid making Paypal transactions on free Wi-Fi like with any online banking or credit card.  

Add two-factor authentication on your Paypal account to make it harder to get access to. 

Can you get a refund on Paypal?

If you are scammed Paypal does offer some purchase protection. They also take fraud very seriously. You can contact their Resolution Center for help with any fraudulent or unauthorized charges. Please note, not all purchases are eligible for purchase protection. So you aren’t guaranteed a refund for some types of payments. 

Venmo

Venmo began in 2009 as a way to send money via text message. It quickly became popular and has gone from noun to verb. It’s now synonymous with sending money from your phone. In 2013, it was acquired by Paypal. In 2020 it began entering the cryptocurrency space allowing users to purchase crypto as well. Unlike its owner Paypal, Venmo is meant to be a way to exchange money with friends. It replaces pocket money by letting you exchange cash with friends for dinner or running errands, etc. 

The app is soon rolling out payment protection for purchases made on Venmo and branching out into business transactions. This will essentially place a processing fee on the recipients of cash. It will also provide greater fraud protection for purchasers when using Venmo. 

Is Venmo safe?

Venmo uses bank-level encryption so it should provide safety for your money and account. However, there are a few potential security risks. It’s important to remember that Venmo is ideally only used between friends. Like with social media sites, if you add or interact with someone you don’t know well, they could hack your account or steal your information. Venmo lets you set up a pin number when using the app to help add another layer of protection.

There are some privacy security liabilities as Venmo does publicly list who you send money to and receive money from by default. This has allowed some hackers to scheme their way into your personal life…and your account. It is simple enough to transfer your balance to another account if they gain access to your Venmo. 

Tips to Stay Safe on Venmo

Set your Venmo to private. No one needs to know you sent Aunt Shelia 5 dollars. 

Try to only Venmo with people you know. 

Add a pin or touch ID to protect your account. 

Avoid keeping too large of a standing balance in your Venmo account. 

Can you get a refund on Venmo?

Venmo is a bit dicey on refunds. The premise of the app is that you’re sending money to a friend so, theoretically, you should be able to resolve it privately. And Venmo is only just now rolling out payment protection, so that will change. 

If you do mistakenly send money to someone be sure to start by sending them a request for the same amount. Then you can escalate the mistake to Venmo’s customer service. Venmo will honor refunds of money sent to dead accounts, unauthorized payments, mistaken payments, and payments that violate their user agreement. Be sure to include as much information as possible and contact Venmo right away to avoid delays. 

Zelle

In 2017, Zelle entered into the mobile money exchange space. Like Venmo, it is meant to be used between people who know each other. Unlike the other apps on this list, however, it’s backed by hundreds of banks. Think of Zelle as more of a bank transfer app.

Zelle lets you instantly transfer money from your bank account to someone else’s using their phone number. It can be done via an app or on your bank account online.  

Is Zelle safe?

Zelle is on the safer side as the encryption that protects it is at the same level as your bank. And the transfers happen in seconds which eliminates prying eyes. It’s also much more private than other apps as it’s not meant to function as a social network. It’s simply a means of transferring money. 

But all of this money exchanging does attract potential scammers. There is no fraud protection for authorized transactions. So, if you purchase a good or service, you are not covered if you never receive it. Again, the service is not built for purchases but for personal cash exchanges. Scammers are aware. 

Tips to Stay Safe on Zelle

Only use Zelle with people you know and trust and only when you need to quickly transfer money. When making purchases, it may be beneficial to use a mode of payment that offers more protection. 

Can you get a refund on Zelle?

You cannot get a refund via fraud protection as it doesn’t exist. But you can potentially cancel payments in the app. To cancel a payment enter into your bank account and look for the processing transaction. You can contact their customer service but you are only covered for unauthorized transactions.

Cash App

Cash App is Square register’s version of Venmo. They function somewhat similarly as they let you send money to people with the same app. Square, the app’s owner, is a payment provider that lets you process credit card payments. Cash App was launched as Square Cash in 2013.

Cash App, like Venmo, is for sending money between friends. But Cash App does have many benefits like being able to use it like a bank account. It also recently acquired Credit Karma and will be adding it to the app. 

You can receive direct deposits, invest, and even trade cryptocurrency in your Cash App. 

Is Cash App safe?

Cash App encrypts all data in transit and can claim PCI-DSS level 1 certification. Also, all of your transactions are safe. However, your balance is not FDIC insured so this does put your money at risk. Also, if you keep a standing balance it will not accrue any interest. 

Tips to Stay Safe on Cash App

Similar to Venmo, you should be aware of who you send money to and only use Cash App with people you know. You also don’t want to maintain a large balance and activate all of the security features. Also, be mindful of people who may use Cash App as a scam; there have been customer service scams where people purport themselves to be Cash App customer support.

Can you get a refund on Cash App?

You can request refunds in the app. You can also dispute charges with their customer service. Like with Venmo, you’re not guaranteed to receive a refund; it is an option and there is an escalation process you can take advantage of. 

Eventually, everything goes digital. We’re shifting how we use, spend, and send money. These apps seem to be a new way to manage and make money. But like with anything involving finances, it’s important to be safe, mind your security, and keep an eye out for scammers.

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