The money you have stored on a mobile payment app may be at more risk than you think if the company providing it runs into financial trouble, the government’s consumer watchdog has warned.
Billions worth of account balances at popular mobile payment services including Paypal (PYPL), Apple Pay (AAPL), Google Pay (GOOGL), Venmo, and Cash App may be at more risk than their customers believe, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said in a report Thursday. That’s because unlike bank accounts protected by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) policies, mobile payment companies are not themselves banks and money given to them isn’t necessarily backed up by the FDIC, which guarantees bank deposits of up to $250,000.
The report highlighted the risks of using relatively new financial technology products that aren’t subject to the same rules and regulations that govern traditional banks and credit unions. Payment apps, which allow individuals to quickly and easily transfer money to one another, have been growing in popularity, and many services have begun to offer services that resemble deposit accounts at banks, but which don’t necessarily enjoy the protection that covers consumer bank accounts.
The CFPB’s findings come at a time when anxiety among consumers about the safety of their money is running high. An April Gallup poll found that half of U.S. adults were worried about the safety of their money in the wake of a string of highly publicized bank failures, despite the fact that none of the depositors in those banks lost their money.
While money stored on payment apps may be protected by FDIC “pass-through” insurance under certain circumstances, and some payment services say customer accounts are covered by the FDIC because of relationships with banks or credit unions, confusing terms-of-service documentation makes it hard for customers to know when their account balances are covered and when they aren’t, the CFPB said in the report.
For example, the CFPB said Google’s user terms of service did not specify where customer funds were stored after being put into a Google Pay account, and PayPal’s terms of service were “unclear” about where the money went.
That means if the company operating a payment service were to fail, or if many customers tried to withdraw their funds at once in a classic bank-run-style panic, depositors could lose their money or have to wait for lengthy bankruptcy proceedings to get it back.
Paypal, Apple, Google, Venmo, and Cash App did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the CFPB’s findings.