How thieves borrow phones and empty bank accounts

In the past, if a stranger wanted to use your phone in a public place, it was relatively safe to hand it over. The risk of theft was obviously there. But provided they had nowhere to run, the chances of that happening were slim.

Unfortunately, with the widespread popularity of payment apps, this is no longer true. Once the criminals get hold of your phone, they could, if you’re unlucky, access your online banking and take your money.

So how exactly do thieves use other people’s payment apps to make money for themselves? We will take a look.

Why do criminals ask to use your phone?

photo of a person using a phone

Mobile payment apps like Zelle and Venmo have never been so popular. Their popularity is easy to understand: they allow you to send money to anyone in seconds from anywhere in the world.

However, one problem with these apps is that someone might see them as a perfect opportunity to steal your money.

Most scams that use payment apps involve a series of tricks to get you to send money. But some criminals are now skipping this step; they just ask strangers to use their phones and then send the money themselves.

The victim often does not realize what happened until hours or even days later. And at this point there is nothing more they can do about it.

How does the scam work?

Some criminals are more imaginative than others, but the easiest way for one of these individuals to borrow a stranger’s phone is to simply say that their own phone’s battery is dead.

They are likely to come up with some sort of story explaining why the appeal is urgent. The attacker will then pretend to make a phone call, and when the call apparently doesn’t go through, they will instead ask to send a text message.

The criminal can also ask for instructions. But it’s not because they need it; this serves as a distraction and gives them more time to press additional buttons on your device.

After sending money to each other, some criminals will take the extra step of deleting the app they used to make the payment. Depending on the app, this may prevent you from receiving a notification that you have sent the money.

How much are people losing?

Photo of a person using a phone with a dark background

This scam is popular with criminals because in many cases mobile payment apps place few restrictions on the amount of money you can send.

If you have an account with Venmo, you must verify your identity when registering. However, you can send up to $ 2,999 in a single transaction once you have done so. If you have Zelle installed, the limit may be even higher depending on your bank.

Some people can lose their entire bank balance when trying to help a stranger, so it’s important to be wary of a potential criminal.

Why is the scam effective?

This is one of those scams where, unless you’ve fallen for the trap, you might be wondering how someone could fall for the trap. The reality, however, is that it happens every day.

Most people don’t realize how poorly protected they are with mobile payment apps. They also don’t understand how quickly an experienced stranger can use such apps to access their money.

Criminals also make sure their excuses seem reasonable. As humans, we tend to empathize with others. Scammers take advantage of the fact that most people are willing to help a stranger if they use the right story.

How to avoid this scam

Photo of a phone with security settings enabled

Fortunately, this is one of the easiest scams to avoid. Once you’re aware of its existence, it’s just a matter of never giving your phone to a stranger for any reason. It’s also a good idea to be wary of anyone who asks you to do otherwise.

Most payment apps will give you a collection of optional security features. With Venmo, for example, you can make the app ask for a pin code every time you open it. Plus, you can request SMS confirmations every time you make a payment. These are just a few of the many ways you can secure your Venmo account.

It’s also worth taking the time to activate your phone’s built-in security settings and add an extra layer of security.

Why some thieves want you to use their phone instead

If you ever sell something, be aware that some criminals make money by showing you their phones instead.

In a relatively recent scam, people are installing bogus payment apps on their phones. Then they use these apps as proof that they sent payment to the victim.

This usually happens when the victim places an ad selling something in a popular marketplace. Upon meeting the seller, he shows himself sending a payment. If the victim does not check their phone for confirmation, the thief can walk away with the item for free. It then becomes your word against theirs that the item was paid for with almost no chance of payback.

Can the victim get their money back?

Phone loan scam is popular because it is difficult for users to prove that they have been victimized. Even if you find out what happened immediately after, there is little you can do.

Criminals usually send money to anonymous accounts they set up with stolen ID documents. And once the money arrives, they tend to withdraw it soon after.

Even though the victim will know what the abuser looks like, it is extremely difficult to find him. The only chance you might have is if the event took place in an area covered by CCTV.

Don’t risk putting your phone back

If a stranger approaches you and asks you to borrow your phone, it’s impossible to tell what their motives are. It could be an ordinary person just having a bad day. Or it could be a thief who has repeated the same story a hundred times.

Unfortunately, if you have a payment app on your phone, giving people the benefit of the doubt can be a very costly mistake. And as the popularity of this scam increases, so does the chance that you will talk to a thief. Unless you’re willing to risk your money, it’s usually best to assume the worst.

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