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Cybercriminals are exploiting popular payment apps, such as Zelle and Venmo, to steal money from mobile users

Mobile payment apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App are at risk of being targeted by criminals who can easily drain money from your bank account. Unauthorized users can gain access to an unlocked device and use it to make purchases through these apps by exploiting financial data to open new accounts.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Jr. has labeled these financial apps as the most “lucrative target” for scammers. With users experiencing financial hardship after using peer-to-peer mobile payment apps, Bragg Jr. emphasized the need for immediate action to protect consumers from these vulnerabilities.

Bragg Jr. mentioned that the misuse of these mobile payment apps is not just a local problem but a nationwide issue. He recounted several events, from Los Angeles to Orlando, where people have been targeted by thieves and scammers using these platforms.

The Manhattan DA describes several scam methods, including when strangers ask to borrow a phone to make a quick call and end up transferring funds through the individual’s financial app without their knowledge. Another ploy involves strangers asking for a donation and offering to transfer the money on the victim’s smartphone. However, once the phone is in their possession, they transfer a large sum of money to their own account.

To avoid falling victim to these scams, Bragg Jr. advises against lending your smartphone to anyone. He emphasizes holding onto your device and not allowing others to use it. If someone approaches you with a request to borrow your phone, it’s best to reject the request or make the call on their behalf.

The parent company of Zelle, Early Warning Systems, acknowledged the criminal activity mentioned in Bragg Jr.’s letter while minimizing the number of incidents occurring. They stated that less than one-tenth of one percent of transactions are reported as fraud or scams.

A spokesperson from Cash App expressed the company’s commitment to building trust and a safe and secure platform for its customers. They emphasized their efforts to proactively safeguard customers’ money and mitigate the risks of fraud through various protective controls, including multi-factor authentication and fraud detection.

Bragg Jr. believes that mobile payment apps should institute security measures similar to the Stolen Device Protection feature recently installed on eligible iPhone models with iOS 17.3. This feature requires Face ID or Touch ID authentication for certain sensitive activities and introduces a waiting period between making important changes on the device to verify the user’s identity.

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