Peer-to-peer payment apps make it easy to split the bill with friends. But that ease of sending and requesting money with the press of a touchscreen button can get complicated if things don’t go according to plan.
Reddit user equkelly posted yesterday that someone they didn’t know sent them $1,500 on Venmo. “I don’t know this person is and I’m assuming they sent it to the wrong user,” they wrote in r/personalfinance.
Several users quickly recommended the original poster not just return the money via Venmo, but instead contact Venmo to have the company manually initiate the refund. That’s what the poster ultimately did, but other suggestions ranged from sending it back to doing nothing and having the sender initiate the return — and then still doing nothing and wait for Venmo to step in.
It’s surely a confusing situation, and it’s not unlike a recent instance where a couple discovered thousands of extra dollars in their bank account. But that couple went out and spent the money, which is decidedly not the best course of action.
What to do about your mystery money
So what should you do if you get a notification that someone you don’t know dropped money into your account? Assuming you’re not publicly asking strangers to send you money, should you initiate a return? Notify the service provider?
A Venmo representative said by email that if you suspect you’re being targeted by a scammer through their app, you should contact support right away. This advice goes for any other online monetary service, including PayPal.
Additionally, Venmo’s FAQ offers these instructions:
What do I do if I receive a payment from a stranger?
If you receive a payment from someone that you don’t know, you can simply send a payment back to the other user with a note explaining that they paid the wrong person. You’re also welcome to contact us to have us reverse the other person’s payment back to them for you.
While government agencies tend to be on top of the latest and greatest in scam attempts, information and alerts around online services are less common.
What to do if you send money to the wrong person
In the meantime, what if you’re the person who sent money to the wrong person? You’re not a scammer, you just made a mistake. The Planet Money podcast had an episode about this, in which someone was in $2,200 worth of digital limbo because they spelled the user’s name wrong. The money went to Stephen, not Steven.
With a credit card, you’d request a chargeback to undo the mistake, Planet Money explained. But there’s nothing traditional about peer-to-peer payment systems! While a service can step in to help, the app relies on users to work these sorts of issues out themselves first. Here’s what Venmo’s support page has to say about those situations:
What do I do if I paid the wrong person?
Send them a charge request for the same amount with a note asking them to pay you back for the money you sent by mistake.
If you don’t hear back from them or need help sending a charge request, feel free to check out this article for instructions on how to contact us. We’d be happy to help!
You can also complete a charge back request via other online peer-to-peer payment services like PayPal, but your first step should always be checking and confirming who you're paying in the first place.