Have Venmo, PayPal, Cash App? Scammers targeting users, stealing thousands

Thieves have found a new way to steal thousands of dollars just by borrowing your cell phone for a few seconds. 

"I never thought this could happen," said Timothy Mercado, after scammers tried to steal more than $1400 right in front of him.

Mercado was walking in South End on Tuesday afternoon when a man asked to borrow his phone. 

"He said, 'My phone died,' and asked if he could make a quick call," said Mercado. 

The man then asked if he could send a text message.

"Not thinking, I absolutely said, 'Yes absolutely'," said Mercado.

That simple gesture became an opportunity for a thief. Mercado says the man used his Cash App instead and tried to wirelessly transfer $1450 to himself.

"It's pretty brazen for someone to do this right in front of our face," said Mercado. 

Mercado isn't alone. Last month, FOX 46 told you about the same scam happening at a Mount Holly gas station. 

"Feels like a punch to the stomach," said Joshua Murphy, who had $1400 stolen from him. "Just gut-wrenching."

Like Mercado, Murphy says a man asked to borrow his phone to "make a call." Instead, he used his Venmo payment app to steal $1400.

Mercado filed a police report. He says the dispatcher told him the scam is on the rise in Charlotte.

"She immediately came back and said this is the most rampant thing," he said. "She probably gets four to five calls an evening, just her, of this happening in Charlotte."

There have been at least four cases reported in the past three weeks, according to Charlotte Mecklenburg police, with no arrests made. 

It's a crime that can occur "incredibly quickly," according to a CMPD sergeant with the financial crimes unit, who advises people:

  • If someone asks to borrow your phone, make the call for them and put the parties on speak phone. Don't let others have access to your keypad. 
  • Code protect cash apps (like Venmo, Zelle, Cash App) with a password.

That is exactly what Mercado is now doing. He has now password protected his payment apps. A good idea, according to experts, so you can be sure you are the only one who has access to your money.

"It's scary," said Mercado.