It’s never been easier to send someone money thanks to the proliferation of payment apps such as Zelle, Cash App, or Venmo. And as of November 2022, more than a quarter of people worldwide utilize mobile payments and apps to some degree. But payment apps aren’t without their potential pitfalls, and sometimes a simple mistake, like sending money to the wrong person, can be costly.
That’s a key takeaway from a recent analysis from Consumer Reports, which evaluates some of the risks consumers face when using four specific payment apps: Apple Cash, Cash App, Venmo, and Zelle. One interesting finding in the analysis is the fact that “authorized transactions” still pose a risk to users in that people can and do send money to the wrong person. This can happen by incorrectly entering a recipient’s phone number or name, and CR’s report cites a March 2022 survey (also conducted by Consumer Reports), which found that 6% of users have made those types of errors.
The problem for users is that there isn’t typically an easy way to get their money back if you do send it to the wrong person. Often, the only recourse is to try and ask the recipient for the money back, and hope that they give it. This is because these types of mistakes are classified as “authorized” transactions, as opposed to “unauthorized” transactions, which generally include certain types of fraud.
“There’s no ability to pull back a payment as you might do with a bank transfer or a credit card transaction,” says Delicia Hand, director of financial fairness advocacy at Consumer Reports. “It has to do with the nature of the relationships between payment apps and banks—payment apps largely facilitate payments,” Hand says. “They don’t tend to be the holder of accounts,” she adds, so “the responsibility lies with banks” to be able to get money back that was sent to the wrong recipient.
Hand does say, however, that the capability likely exists for apps to pull back funds, but at this point, they don’t implement it if a transaction is “authorized.”
Fast Company reached out to each of the four payment apps evaluated by Consumer Reports to clarify their policies regarding money being mistakenly sent to the wrong person. Here is a rundown of each policy:
- Cash App: “Cash App can’t cancel or refund a payment after it has been completed. If you sent money to the wrong account, ask the recipient for a refund,” reads an article from Cash App’s support pages. If a user believes they’ve been scammed, however, the company recommends reaching out to its support team.
- Zelle: Zelle, likewise, tells users that money sent to the wrong person likely can’t be transferred back to the original user if the recipient is enrolled with Zelle. “If your recipient has already enrolled with Zelle, the money is sent directly to your recipient’s bank account and cannot be canceled,” says a relevant Zelle FAQ page.
- Apple Cash: Apple Cash encourages users to ask wrongful recipients for the funds back if a transaction is sent in error to the wrong person. Users can, however, cancel the payment until a recipient accepts it. If that doesn’t occur within seven days, the payment will be automatically canceled and the money returned to the sender.
- Venmo (owned by PayPal): It’s a similar story for Venmo users, according to the company’s Help Center documents. “It is not possible to cancel a payment to an existing Venmo account. Once a payment is sent, the funds are available to the recipient right away.” However, a PayPal spokesperson does tell Fast Company that “each situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as we strive to help any customer experiencing challenges resolve their issue. We also provide transparent, educational materials both in the app and on Venmo.com regarding ways consumers can help protect themselves and enable additional layers of security when sending or receiving money.”
While Venmo and other apps will look into mistaken payments for users, it may be best practice not to get your hopes up that the situation can be mitigated. Ultimately, it’s a user’s responsibility to make sure they’re sending money to the right recipient. As such, if you do accidentally send money to a stranger—particularly one you can’t contact or track down—you may have to chalk it up as a loss, although it might not hurt to get in touch with the app (or your bank) to see if something can be done.
That said, it’ll be interesting to see if payment apps change their policies at some point in the future. Given that roughly one in 20 users do, at some point, make a mistake when sending a payment, enough consumer pressure could spur policy revisions. “If you’re a consumer, you’re largely left to reach out to a recipient and hope for the best,” says Hand. “You’re sort of left in limbo to see if you can get your money back or not.”
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