Protect Yourself When Using P2P Apps and Prepaid Gift Cards

When should you pay with a money transfer app or gift card?

By Navy Federal August 1, 2019
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Who doesn’t love a good bargain? These days, some of the best buys can be found at independent, online sellers like those on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. While these sellers may claim to have exactly what you’re looking for at a can’t-beat price, there are precautions you should take when buying from them—particularly if you’re asked to make your payment using a peer-to-peer (P2P) money-sending app like Venmo®,1 Zelle®2 or CashApp,3 or sending prepurchased gift cards from such merchants as Walmart®, Amazon and iTunes®.4 This advice extends to paying rental deposits for vacation homes and other instances where you find yourself sending money or gift cards to people you don’t know.

About Peer-to-Peer Payment Apps

In order to understand the potential danger of using digital payment apps when purchasing from a seller you don’t know, it helps to be familiar with how they work. P2P payment services are meant to provide quick and easy money transfers between two people. Linked to your bank account or debit card, the online technology that these platforms run on allows you to electronically transfer funds from your linked account to another person’s account.

When Should You Pay Someone With P2P Apps or Prepurchased Gift Cards?

You should only use P2P apps and prepurchased gift cards to pay for goods or services when you know and trust the seller. Would you feel safe paying the seller with cash? If the answer is no, then reconsider using P2P or gift cards to pay. Paying with P2P or prepurchased gift cards is just like using cash—once it’s gone, you don’t have any recourse if you’re ripped off. So, while they’re great options for gifting or repaying friends and family, using them to pay strangers makes things a bit more complicated.

Independent online sellers and others are requesting payment via these methods more and more. If you receive a request to pay for goods or services with a prepurchased gift card, it should serve as a red flag that the transaction may not be legitimate. That’s because if you use one of these methods to pay for an item and it turns out the item is fake or never delivered, you won’t be able to recover any of the money you sent. For example, let’s say you find tickets to a sold-out concert on Craigslist. You arrange to pay the seller via a P2P payment or prepurchased gift card. You make the payment and wait for your tickets to arrive, but they never do. Now you’ve lost cash and have no tickets to show for it. To add insult to injury, it may be impossible for you to get back in touch with the seller to resolve the situation.

Shop Smarter

Unfortunately, funding P2P apps through your checking accounts or using your debit card to prepurchase gift cards doesn’t make the cash exchange safer. The best way to protect yourself from scams is by only using P2P apps and prepaid gift cards to pay people and vendors you know and trust. Whenever possible, use your Navy Federal Debit or Credit Card for purchases. That way, you’re protected from reported transactions you didn’t authorize by the Zero Liability policy, and dispute processes exist to try to help you recover funds if you have a dispute with a merchant. At Navy Federal, our dedicated staff closely monitors your accounts for suspicious activity, protecting you from fraudulent charges. Learn more about how we work to keep your accounts secure. about how we work to keep your accounts secure.

1Venmo is a service of PayPal, Inc., a licensed provider of money transfer services.

2Zelle and the Zelle-related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.

3CashApp is a trademark of Square, Inc.

4iTunes is a trademark of Apple, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. iTunes is for legal or rightholder-authorized copying only. Don't steal music.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.