SAN ANTONIO – Daniela Rivera turned to Instagram to find a puppy for her grandparents. When she saw Prince, the adorable Goldendoodle, up for adoption, she was smitten.
“It was like love at first sight,” she said. “He was so, so cute.”
When Rivera contacted the owner of the Instagram account, she said he sent certification and vaccination records and even videos.
“It seemed pretty legit,” Rivera said.
But when it came time to pay, what she got was a lesson in online scams.
The seller had asked Rivera to pay $850 using the peer-to-peer payment app Zelle. She sent the payment, but he vanished along with her money. Because she paid directly with a peer-to-peer payment service, she had no way to recover the money.
“Peer-to-peer payment apps aren’t banks and they’re not credit cards, which makes it much harder for consumers to have recourse and get their money back,” said Consumer Reports money editor Octavio Blanco.
Apps like Zelle are super convenient and popular. But because they don’t offer the same level of protections against scams that most credit cards do, Consumer Reports says that makes them them attractive to online scammers looking to take advantage.
In an AARP survey of Americans 18 and older, more than half of respondents incorrectly thought they could reclaim money sent in error when using peer-to-peer payment apps.
Early Warnings Service, the network operator behind Zelle, told Consumer Reports that “Consumers should only send money to people they know and trust when using Zelle. Treat it like cash, and beware of too-good-to-be-true situations.”
“Until laws are changed, consumers are going to have to be really careful when they use peer-to-peer payment apps,” Blanca said.
To protect yourself when using P2P apps, send money only to people you know and trust and exercise caution when paying businesses with them.
If you are suspicious of something being a scam, a check of the Better Business Bureau’s “Scam Tracker” website can give you a better idea if the product or service you’re looking for is an easy scam target.
The BBB found online puppy scams surged during the 2020 pandemic as many stayed home or were looking for companionship.
Consumer Reports warns not to use a P2P app for business purposes. The terms of service for most apps prohibit the use of them for purchasing goods and services. Look instead for a payment app specifically created for business users, like Square Cash for Business or PayPal.