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CFPB Report: Increased Servicemember Use of Digital Payment Apps

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its annual report on the top financial concerns facing military families. The report highlights the growth of digital payment app usage in the servicemember community, the unique risks to servicemembers from these services, and the potential abuse from bad actors. Some servicemembers have also indicated in their complaints about incurring serious financial harm from scams and fraud when using these services, and their complaints suggest digital payment app providers often fail to provide timely and substantive resolutions.

Servicemembers, veterans, and their families have submitted more than 323,000 consumer complaints since the CFPB opened its doors in 2011. In 2022, they submitted nearly 66,400 complaints to the CFPB, a 55% increase from 2021. In 2022, they submitted more than 1,100 complaints on digital payment apps, one of the fastest-growing complaint types submitted to the CFPB. Many of the reported issues and complaints about digital payment apps relate to frauds and scams, suggesting it is a rapidly growing financial threat to military families.

In building on that earlier research, today’s report summarizes in-depth complaint data analysis from active duty servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Today’s report focuses on the growth of digital payment apps in the servicemember community, and identified several risks to military families, including:

  • Serious financial harm from fraud and scams when using digital payment apps. Often during a permanent change of duty station, servicemembers face the need to secure housing, a new automobile, or daycare during a short window, which often requires them to conduct more online transactions using digital payment apps. After reporting being scammed online using payment apps, servicemembers reported that it affected their overall financial stability, and such consequences may impact servicemembers’ ability to continue service or keep a security clearance.
  • Identity theft and unauthorized account access. Servicemembers’ steady income may make them a target for identity thieves looking to tap into bank accounts that are often linked to a digital payment app. The CFPB has received complaints where servicemembers had their identities stolen followed by unauthorized money transfers out of their digital payment app accounts.
  • Failure of digital payment app providers to provide timely and substantive resolutions to servicemember complaints. Complaints indicate servicemembers and veterans who lost money due to unauthorized transfers and are still struggling to get their money back due to digital payment app providers failing to provide timely and substantive resolutions.

To address these emerging risks, the report recommends digital payment app providers:

  • Improve the safety and security of their networks to prevent fraud. Digital payment app providers can improve the overall safety and security of their products by investing in privacy and security technology, and by preventing, identifying, and limiting fraudulent activity, including by detecting and removing repeat offenders from their systems.
  • Improve their responsiveness in the event fraud does occur. Where fraud involves multiple entities, financial institutions, and digital payment app providers should coordinate more closely to ensure that problems related to fraud are resolved quickly. By helping to expedite the process, it can help reduce the time that someone must wait to access locked funds or to reclaim funds. For military families, accessing these funds can be particularly critical during a permanent change of station or deployment.
  • Tailor policies on refunds for fraud losses that recognize the unique experiences of military families. Servicemembers experiencing fraud on digital payment apps may not be able to as quickly recognize or respond to fraud. Digital payment app providers should recognize these challenges and take a comprehensive approach to reimbursement when all types of fraud occur.

The CFPB’s earlier research highlighted the risks to consumers using digital payment apps. Funds sitting in these accounts often lack deposit insurance protection. Digital payment apps are also primarily regulated by state laws and generally do not require that customer funds be stored in or automatically swept into insured accounts.

Read today’s report, Office of Servicemember Affairs Annual Report, January – December 2022 

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