Digital money apps offer convenience, require care
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Using digital resources to buy products from individuals can be as easy as making online purchases from major sellers if consumers take steps to ensure financial security.
Mark Kilpatrick recently offered a desk for sale in Starkville, Mississippi, and was targeted for a questionable transaction. The name of the financial app was deleted from the following conversation.
“So, do you have [app] so I can make the payment now because my wife doesn’t have a bank for me to make payment,” the online buyer messaged.
When Kilpatrick repeated this was a cash-only transaction, the potential scammer tried again.
“I only have [app] for the payment because it is linked to my bank. Kindly sign up for [app] now or if you don’t mind checking if you bank account will accept [app] as well,” the buyer replied.
Kilpatrick declined the sale. He did not share his bank information with the potential buyer, nor did he sign up for a financial app he was not familiar with.
Financial experts say both were the right steps to take when confronted with a questionable situation.
Becky Smith, director of the Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Economic Education and Financial Literacy, said that in 2021, more than four out of five U.S. consumers used some form of digital payment rather than cash or checks.
“Because most mobile payments are tied to bank accounts or paid with credit cards or prepaid cards, these transactions rely on the same underlying financial system infrastructure and offer the same consumer protections as traditional credit cards and debit cards,” Smith said. “Protections against unauthorized usage now also exist for funds stored directly on a mobile app or wallet or peer-to-peer app.”
Mobile payments have significant safety features built into them, including such things as tokenization, encryption and biometric identification. Tokenization means a token or code is assigned to each transaction, rather than a card number. Bioidentification includes facial recognition software that is standard of many mobile devices.
“It is projected that contactless payments will continue to increase in popularity as more merchants adopt the technology and consumers become more educated about their safety,” Smith said.
These financial tools, combined with online marketplaces, mean thousands of Mississippians frequently exchange money electronically peer-to-peer -- or P2P. Such situations are attractive to some would-be thieves.
“Peer-to-peer apps like Venmo, Cash App and Zelle are meant to transfer money between people who trust each other,” Smith said. “They are not means to buy or sell goods and services from strangers. Once the payment is made, the money is gone.”
Some of these apps require users to link a bank account or credit or debit card. Others simply require users to create an account, and users do not have to link the account to an existing financial instrument.
“A scam becoming popular is when strangers agree to a sale via a P2P app, and the buyer hands over the item being sold once the funds are electronically transferred,” Smith said. “Later, the financial app recognizes it was a commercial transaction and voids it for violating the app’s use policy.
“The seller has already given away the item, and the buyer cannot be found,” she said.
The old axiom “caveat emptor” -- buyer beware -- applies as much today as ever.
“See if the seller has reviews and make sure there are no complaint or scam alerts associated with that person or online business,” Smith said. “Check to see if the seller has an actual physical address and a correct phone number, and determine shipping information before you buy. Avoid individuals and businesses that only accept gift cards, cryptocurrency or money transfers through a third party.”
Security concerns aside, another danger of digital transactions is the ease of spending money. It can lead to spending more than is wise.
“Being able to hold cash connects us to it more than going cashless, so consumers tend to spend less when the money is in their hand,” she said. “No matter how you spend the money, keep track of your expenditures and keep them in check.”