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Venmo scam shows the dangers of selling to strangers

As much as $25,000 of equipment has reportedly been stolen.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on Jul 19, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 11:21 pm CDT

A group of Venmo scammers is working its way across Los Angeles, stealing tens of thousands of dollars from videographers and photographers, according to a report from the Verge.

The group reportedly targets people selling camera equipment on Facebook Marketplace, and convinces them to use Venmo as the method for transaction. Instead of sending over a single payment, the group, which has a number of accounts under the name Andy Mai, sends dozens of installments between $80 and $90.

It isn’t until a few hours later, long after the scammers get their expensive equipment, that Venmo freezes the seller’s accounts and tells them to reach out to local law enforcement. One of the victims who reportedly lost a $1,500 Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K was told by a Venmo customer service rep that his account had been suspended for breaking the app’s user policy by receiving money for goods.

It appears Venmo also blocked the accounts from Andy Mai, but more surfaced soon after.

Venmo strongly warns against conducting transactions with people you don’t know, especially if it involves the sale of goods. It considers the transactions “potentially high risk” and reminds users that there’s no protection program for sales conducted with its service.

According to the report, two victims who lost a combined $9,000 found as many as 20 other individuals who were affected over the course of just two weeks. The Verge says it verified four victims with loses up to $25,000. If the other 16 or so reports are also verified, losses could add up to as high as $100,000.

“The main issue I have with this entire situation is that Venmo knows this is happening, but they’re doing nothing,” Brendan, one of the victims, told the Verge. “They’ve created a platform for criminals, and are placing the blame on their legitimate users, despite the incredibly misleading information on their website.”

One particularly concerning detail from the report claims one of the Mai accounts housed more than the standard $200 limit. Once you go beyond that amount, users must verify a bunch of information with Venmo, including their birth date, zip code, the last four digits of their social security number, and additional information. This raises the question of how Mai was able to run multiple verified accounts at the same time, all while they were being shut down and resurfacing under a similar name.

As the Verge points out, Venmo, unlike other money transfer services, does not charge a transfer fee that can be used to protect against fraud. This means it doesn’t have the same defenses as credit cards and banks when it comes to determining whether money is stolen or misused.

It’s not clear how Venmo plans to stop Andy Mai from stealing more money from people who are unfamiliar with its app.

We have reached out to Venmo and will update this article when we hear back.

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2017, 4:39 pm CDT