Venmo Scammer Gets Away With $25,000 in Camera Equipment

A scammer is using the highly popular funds sharing app Venmo to steal thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. It appears that the thief operates inside of Facebook Marketplaces and seems to be targeting videography professionals in the Los Angeles area.

In a story first broke by The Verge, dozens of people have come forward and claimed to have been scammed by the same user, or users, all of whom are using the alias Andy Mai. To this point, there have been four confirmed scammed individuals totaling in $25,000 worth of camera equipment, though it's quite easily much higher than that. Some estimates are as high as $100,000 in unconfirmed claims.

Our story starts with Rasa who was selling a Blackmagic USRA Mini 4.6K for $1,500. When Mai contacted him and they made their arrangements, the criminal insisted on using Venmo, but the first clue to deception was the way that the payments came in. Instead of one payment of $1,500, Rasa received over a dozen of payments at $80 and $90. However, all of the money was inside of his account, so he didn't feel he had a legitimate reason to deny the sell of his camera. It was only a day later that his initial intuition proved to be correct. Rasa's account had been frozen and the funds removed from his account. When he reached out to Venmo, they simply informed him that he had broken their user policy by exchanging goods for money.

It wasn't long until there was another victim, Brendan. He was selling a Sony DSLR and several thousands of dollars worth of lenses. The same set of suspicious circumstances arrived, but again, the money was in his account, so he went on with the transaction. The only difference was the man who traded with Brendan was a different person, but again, using the same name. Both Brendan and Rasa reached out on Facebook to find others who may have been scammed as well. They were greeted by over 20 others who claimed to have been scammed by Mai in the previous two weeks.

It's only speculation at this point, but it appears each person was paid with stolen credit and debit cards, only to have those transactions canceled shortly thereafter. If that's the case, this is a simple scam that turns quickly canceled credit cards, and their transactions, into a tangible piece of expensive and easily resalable equipment.

Brendan believes it's Venmo's lack of anti-fraud measures that are to blame, however, Venmo is quick to point out that their service is intended for monetary exchange between friends and others you feel you can trust. What are your thoughts? Have you been similarly scammed on Venmo or another electronic paying service?

[via The Verge]

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17 Comments

Motti Bembaron's picture

I never heard of this app and went to look for some info. This is what Wikipedia says: "...Cash transfers using Venmo are not considered instantaneous and can be canceled after an initial transfer is sent. These transfers can take one to several days to transfer. The Better Business Bureau reports some scammers exploit this on Craigslist and other services."

So people make the transfer, goods are shipped and they cancel? Not sure how this is safe and why would you use it. Maybe I am missing something.

Stephen Atohi's picture

The short answer? You wouldn't.

Motti Bembaron's picture

You are right, we shouldn't.

Adam Ottke's picture

Venmo is normally not used for transfer of funds for goods or services (and it's not supposed to be). Its main purpose is so friends can easily pay each other back for dinner, a beer, a few bucks in exchange for a favor, etc. But because it's so popular, now, a lot of people just use it to pay for anything since they see it akin to transferring cash, but digitally and without the headache of going to the ATM. So for in-person craigslist deals, they'll take the 100 or 200 bucks (or way more, in the cases outlined in the article), and they'll just say, "Just Venmo me if you have that," and won't think twice about it... I understand their mistake...but people need to be reminded that it's not as safe as it feels, even if you're both there in person. Cash is just better...

Motti Bembaron's picture

I understand, thank you for the explanation Adam. Will not touch it myself.

Nikos Metaxas's picture

For f's sake, only accept PayPal for online payments. Even dogs know this by now.......

Michael Kormos's picture

PayPal is not the holy grail of online payments. They had recently changed their policy which allows buyers to claim a refund up to 6 months after the purchase, if they can show the item was significantly not as described, or a host of other irregularities. I had sold my old iMac on eBay, and believe it or not, more than 5 months after the purchase, the buyer claimed the item was "significantly not as described", and received a chargeback. It took two months of back-and-forth letters (the snail mail kind) to get it resolved. Good thing I had plenty of photos.

There was recently a case where someone purchased a rare antique violin for thousands of dollars, and months later claimed it was a fake. The poor seller was not only forced to give a full refund, but PayPal didn't even request the violin be sent back! All while PayPal's "experts" decided that the case was inconclusive.

Online marketplace has evolved to heavily lean toward buyers, in order to attract more sales. The ones on the receiving end are the ones taking the risk.

I now sell my things on Craigslist, locally, for cash only. It should also be noted that Venmo is owned by PayPal.

No thanks.

Stephen Atohi's picture

Cash is the holy grail.

Michael Kormos's picture

Amen

Motti Bembaron's picture

A colleague of mine bought a used Mac Pro with PayPal and never received it. Scams exist on PayPal too unfortunately.

I sell stuff on Kijiji only! Face to face, cash only, thank you very much :-)

James O's picture

This is pretty bad in this age. Recently my bank WF along with other banks came up with something called Zelle to compete with Venmo. I won't be there guinea pig. All these technologies are making us more vulnerable to hacks and scams. Although a bit of caution could help these victims a bit if they just follow their 1st instincts. I do PayPal only and CL (local and cash only no exceptions - and i check the cash to make sure it's not fake).

Are there any insurance against lost cash that were withdrawn (cancelled)? think FDIC or am i all over my head?

Robert Nurse's picture

In this day and age of hacks and an infrastructure unwilling to back you up, why would anyone not use Paypal. They've been around for how long now? Stick with the tried and true. Paypal can be used for transactions among friends and strangers alike. Venmo? I'll never touch them!

Seth Lowe's picture

Venmo is a Paypal product.

Eduardo Francés's picture

Sell locally and only accept cold, hard cash... In reality it is pretty easy to avoid this kind of problems.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Thanks Stephen for omitting many key details of The Verges article and lousy punctuation that made it difficult to read.

If people are still using any form of payment other than PayPal or the selling sites guaranteed money escrow service that has been vetted (DON"T DO IT!) , then they are foolish.
Surprise Surpise, people are getting taken advantage of for not using common sense.

Stephen Atohi's picture

You're welcome!

Marco Castro's picture

"Cash Rules Everything Around Me... dolla dolla bills yo'"