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Report: Digital Wallets Becoming Favorite Target for Online Scammers

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Thursday, July 1, 2021   

PHOENIX, Ariz - During the pandemic, many Arizonans began using peer-to-peer payment apps - also called digital wallets - to pay for goods and services or their share of a dinner bill.

But consumer advocates report as the use of apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Zelle have increased, so have the number of consumer complaints.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Complaint Database, the number of gripes about P2P apps has almost doubled over the past 12 months.

Ed Mierzwinski is the consumer program director for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. He said users who don't understand how the apps work can lose money.

"People should understand the money is gone instantly when you push the button and the money leaves your account," said Mierzwinski. "It is very rare that it will come back and people don't realize, whoosh, it's gone."

Mierzwinski said most common issues listed in the report - Virtual Wallets, Real Complaints - are problems managing, opening or closing accounts; problems with fraud or scams; and problems with payments, including unauthorized transactions.

He said consumers have fewer legal rights with digital wallets than they have using debit or credit cards, and emphasized that most P2P apps are not designed for retail shopping or buying merchandise online.

"Consumers should use it for sharing a payment for a gift with their friends or coworkers, people that they trust," said Mierzwinski. "They should not use it to buy things from strangers. I certainly wouldn't use it on Craigslist or eBay or any of those kinds of services."

He said by setting up the account properly and double-checking where you send payments, users can avoid many of the pitfalls of using digital wallets.

"Do you realize your money is leaving your account and it's probably not coming back?" said Mierzwinski. "So make sure user names are typed correctly, make sure you're only using the account with friends and set your security and privacy settings tight. Set them to 'private'; don't set them to 'public.'"

Mierzwinski said it's a good idea to put a small amount of funds in an account separate from your main bank account, and use it for peer-to-peer transactions. He said that limits the amount of money you can lose if something goes wrong.

Disclosure: Arizona PIRG Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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