The other day, a colleague told me about what seemed to be a public service announcement (PSA) on the radio. It was addressed to young people.
Apparently, a young man had received a request for a Venmo payment from someone he knew. Venmo – a mobile payment service owned by PayPal – describes itself as “the simple, fun money app for sending cash quickly between friends.”
The young man had quickly authorized the payment and only later realized the request was not from the person he thought it was from. He had been scammed.
“Only send money to people you know …,” the PSA concluded.
Obviously that’s good advice. The question is how to make it practical in the world we live in today.
Venmo is a useful service. And – since it involves money – scammers and con artists are endlessly looking for ways to use it to steal from people.
Historically, scams have targeted older people. Today they’re targeting everyone all the time. Young people are a prime target because many are new to managing money and the scammers have discovered that some young people may be too casual about zapping money around.
But there’s something besides scamming going on here too.
Until very recently, “zapping money around” was not even possible. Today people are very comfortable buying and paying with various one-clicks, from Amazon to Venmo.
It’s an easy way to pay. It’s usually safe. It’s not going away. The thing is that it requires a real dedication on the consumer’s part to actively protect your money when both scammers and legitimate companies have a vested interest in having you regard your money as “not real.”
Theme parks understand that people spend more when a convenient wristband lets them “charge it” to their room. Same with credit cards. And that’s part of the reason why casinos use chips instead of cash.
“Buy It Now!” has gotten plenty of people into financial difficulty, ordering things they didn’t really need or want online. Some even have boxes piling up unopened at their homes. That’s happening in a way it just didn’t when people had to pay by cash or by check.
If you’re perfectly comfortable with the way you’re managing your money, you’re probably okay. (If trusted family and friends are concerned for you, that’s a red flag you might not be doing okay, even if you think you are.)
But if you’re worried – if things seem to be going sideways a little too often – you might benefit tremendously by looking for ways to make your money more real to you.
Pay by cash when you can. Use your debit card instead of a credit card. Wait 24 hours before clicking the “Buy It Now” button for online products or services. Take a moment to double-check that money request to be sure it’s authentic.
Only send money to people you know for things you really want – that’s a great way to think about it and a good financial habit to get into.
Everything in the current environment will urge you to go the other way, to spend casually – even carelessly. (Chances are they’ll call it “care-free.”)
No one will ever care about your money as much as you do. Protecting it from scammers and unnecessary spending will help you feel in control now and will ensure that your money is there for you when you need it.
Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to email@example.com.