Don't Use Venmo or Zelle to Sell Camera Equipment (or Anything)

Beware, it's very easy to get scammed using money sharing apps like Venmo or Zelle. That's right Zelle, the competing money sharing app that was created by the banking industry to be a safer alternative to Venmo, is just as easy to defraud people with.

For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about. Venmo is an app that you install on your phone that allows you to share money with people. It's like PayPal, but different (even though Paypal now owns Venmo).

You might be thinking "Why would people use or accept any kind of payment other than cash for a used item?" Well, Venmo has been around for a few years, and there's a history of trust between the user and the app that's already been established. That's why the Venmo scam works so well. When Venmo first started it was all about a quick way to give or get money from your friends when one of you doesn't have any cash. Say you went to dinner with a bunch of people or someone buys tickets to an event that you're going to and everyone needs to pitch in, you can just Venmo them the money that you would owe instead of paying cash, and the money would appear in their account "instantly." It worked flawlessly for years because most of the time you were dealing with people you knew.

The biggest problem with Venmo is that when you transfer money to someone, they will get a message almost instantly that "Money has been deposited into your account, but that's not the case. It's just a promise of money. Venmo and Zelle don't stop someone from entering a stolen credit number or, in Venmo's case, from retracting the offer hours later once they have your item. Then, two days later you get a message that says something like "You've been a victim of fraud."

So, what does Venmo do about it? Nothing. They do absolutely nothing about it.

PetaPixel ran a story recently about photographer Jennifer Khordi, who got Venmo-scammed while selling her Nikon 810A (it's the version made for astrophotography). Not wanting to a victim, she warned everyone she knew on Facebook and Instagram about the scammer and, using the serial number of her old camera, was able to contact B&H, who luckily for her had already purchased the camera from the scammer for $1800 dollars. B&H blacklisted the scammer from selling stolen items to the store and gave her camera back to her, which, unfortunately, B&H had to end up eating the cost of the money paid to the scammer.

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(Jennifer's Nikon D810A that she got back from B&H after being scammed)

I talked to Jennifer and not only did Venmo not offer to help her in any way... she was banned from using the service. No one would take her phone call, no one answered her questions, she got an email that said that she was a victim of fraud and banned for violated Venmo's terms of service.

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(photo of message from Venmo to Jennifer)

How is that possible? Buried deep in Vemno's Service agreement which you have to accept when you download it, is a line similar to this that's now listed in their help section on their main page:

Venmo is designed for payments between friends and people who know and trust one another.

Do not use Venmo to transact with people you don't know, especially if the transaction involves the purchase or sale of a good or service (e.g., items from Craigslist, Instagram, and Facebook). These transactions are potentially high risk and Venmo does not offer a protection program for any purchase or sale that you conduct using our service. You could lose your money without getting what you paid for, or potentially lose funds for an item you're attempting to sell.

How often are you reading the entire "Terms of Service" for every app you're downloading? Zero times is the answer.

So, yes, the woman who was scammed out of a really expensive camera was banned by Venmo, but here's the craziest part... they didn't ban the scammer.

Within days, the scammer contacted one of Jennifer's friends listing a lens for sale and offered to pay in Venmo. It gets weirder too as the next time the scammer went into B&H they called her and asked her to send a copy of her police report over to them. So, she sent over her NJ police report, and the store had security detain the scammer until the police arrived. But, because Jennifer had filed a police report in NJ, the NYPD had to let the man go.

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(actual scammer who stole a $2,700 (used price) camera using Venmo)

So, you might be thinking if she files a report in NY, that would help things right? The problem both the Police and Venmo have is that there's no proof the man is scamming you at the time of the sale. The transaction looks 100% legit. It's not until the next day when the scammer withdraws the funds that it becomes a crime. How can they even withdraw money that you've already received? Because the money was never officially transferred over to you in the first place.

So, please, don't blame the victim, blame the Apps that allow this to happen and offer no protection to the consumer. Venmo and Zelle can still work great as a service to pay people that you know. If you're dealing with strangers, insist on cash for your sales until someone figures out a better way to pay person-to-person electronically.