Accidents happen. But when you accidentally send money to a stranger on a payment app, it may cost you money. Popular apps like Venmo and Zelle are a quick and easy way to transfer money between friends. If you send money to the wrong person, getting your money back could be harder than you think.
A Consumer Report survey found 12% of people who use peer-to-peer (P2P) payments weekly or more have sent a payment to the wrong person. Here’s what happens when you send money to the wrong person on a P2P payment app.
Can Venmo or Zelle be reversed?
P2P payments on popular apps like Venmo and Zelle aren’t easy to cancel or reverse. Although the process of trying to recover funds may vary a bit from app to app, in most cases, you’ll have to rely on the recipient sending the money back to you.
The fast money transfer that makes these apps so convenient also makes transactions difficult to reverse. When you hit send on a P2P payment, the money moves into the recipient’s account instantly. Unless you’ve entered invalid account info (in which case the money goes nowhere), your money becomes the recipient’s money in the blink of an eye. You can’t reach into someone else’s account to retrieve your money; you’ll typically need to ask them to return it instead.
Here’s what support has to say on four popular P2P apps:
A Venmo payment can’t be canceled once it reaches the recipient’s account. If the email or phone number you entered isn’t linked to a Venmo account, the transaction may show as pending, and you may be able to cancel it. If the transaction went through and you know the person, send them a request for the money back, along with a note explaining the circumstances. If you unintentionally sent money to a stranger, contact Venmo support for help reaching out and requesting your money.
If the recipient isn’t an enrolled Zelle user, you may be able to cancel the transaction. However, you can’t reverse or retrieve money if the recipient is enrolled in Zelle and has accepted the payment. You can reach out to the recipient to ask for a refund or contact your bank’s customer service to file a dispute, but the money may not be recoverable.
You can cancel a payment if it hasn’t been accepted; after it’s accepted, you’ll have to reach out to the recipient to ask for your money back. If you’re successful at getting your money returned, the refund may take one to three days to process.
Cash App can’t cancel or refund a payment after it’s been completed, though you can use the Request button on your Cash App home screen to ask the recipient to send your funds back.
How scams may complicate your refund
Wariness about scams could add a wrinkle to your recovery efforts. Here’s how: Scammers are known to use stolen credit cards to send payments to strangers, then ask the recipients to send the money back to them. When the card’s rightful owner reports the transaction as fraud, the credit card company may pull the money from the target’s app account.
Payment apps advise users not to touch unexpected payments they receive from someone they don’t know. If the unknown sender is you, the recipient may be hesitant to interact with you or send your money back. Try to work through the payment app’s support team if you need to reach out to a recipient you don’t know. And if you receive a surprise payment from a stranger, contact the payment company and ask them to verify the transaction before taking any action.
How can you avoid sending the wrong person money?
Eliminating all potential for error isn’t possible, but you can reduce the odds of making an irreversible mistake by following these three simple steps:
- Transact only with friends. Don’t use payment apps to send money to people you don’t know. If they turn out to be scammers, you may never see your money again.
- Triple check your info before sending. Mistyping an email address, phone number or unique handle is easy to do. Take an extra minute to verify you’ve entered info correctly.
- Send a test transaction. Make sure your payment is routing correctly by sending a token amount first.
You might also consider using a different payment method for a large transaction or a payment to someone you don’t know well. An ACH transfer through your bank or credit union can typically be recalled within five days and is usually available for free. A personal check may seem cumbersome, but you can stop payment on it if it gets lost or falls into the wrong hands. Cash is another option, if you can convey the money safely (and in person) to your recipient.
6 ways to cover bills if your payment is lost
If you sent a payment to the wrong person, your money may be gone for good. If the issue is fixable, it may take time to resolve. Either way, you may have bills to pay and less money available to pay them.
Ideally, you have money stashed in emergency savings for just this kind of situation. If not, consider these six ways to cover your bills when you’re momentarily short on cash:
- Use a paycheck advance app. Apps like Chime, MoneyLion and Dave offer small, short-term loans to help you bridge the gap until your next payday. Paycheck advances on these apps typically come with low or no fees, although you can leave a tip to show your appreciation.
- See if your bank or credit union offers short-term loans. Some credit unions, for example, offer payday alternative loans with lower interest rates and better terms than traditional payday loans.
- Put purchases on your credit card or use it to pay bills. While it isn’t advisable to routinely use your credit cards to cover purchases or bills if you don’t have the cash in the bank to pay for them, doing so can buy you a little time in an emergency. Plan to pay the money off as soon as possible to avoid paying interest on your bills and purchases.
- Ask your credit card company or lender if you can skip a payment. Some creditors may let you skip a payment without penalty if you’ve encountered a sudden hardship.
- Ask your landlord for a one-time rent modification. If you don’t make a habit of it, your landlord may be willing to adjust your rent or extend your rent deadline when you’ve had an extenuating circumstance.
- Borrow a few dollars from friends or family. Be meticulous with your loved ones’ money. If they can spot you a few dollars to get you through the month, they (and their generosity) are a blessing.
The bottom line
Payment apps are a fast and easy way to send money. But, like everything in life, they aren’t foolproof. In the end, the convenience of using a P2P app may be worth the risk of accidentally sending $8.50 to the wrong person and never getting it back.
If you’re sending a sizable chunk of money, though, it’s worth taking extra care to make sure your dollars go where you intend. Make certain you have the correct account info before you send a P2P payment. Consider using an alternative payment method if you want to be able to stop payment or reverse an accidental transaction. For what it’s worth, maintaining your credit by establishing good habits and checking your credit score and credit report regularly can help ensure you have alternatives for staying afloat while you recover from a payment that’s gone awry.