These days, many New Jersey residents are more likely to reach for their smartphone than their wallet or purse when making a payment.

Whether it's paying a friend back for lunch, or purchasing goods from someone online, electronic transactions through apps like Venmo and Zelle are becoming a more popular option — they're quick, convenient, and don't involve snail mail or meeting someone face to face.

But, as evidenced by a piece of legislation advanced recently by New Jersey lawmakers, not all of these electronic transactions are accurate. And if the wrong person receives money through one of these apps, or cash is transferred to someone accidentally, there's no hard rule on whether the recipient of that payment actually has to return it.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Morris, puts an end to the ambiguity. Under the measure, failure to return an erroneous person-to-person electronic payment to the sender is counted as theft, given the recipient is aware of the issue.

"It's been difficult for law enforcement to recover mistaken electronic payments without a specific law in place," McKeon said. "As the way we exchange money and goods changes, we need to update our law accordingly to ensure consumers are protected and wrongdoing can be prosecuted."

McKeon said he crafted the legislation after hearing from the chief of police in West Orange, where an individual received an electronic payment by accident and didn't want to pay it back. Law enforcement didn't know whether a crime was being committed.

The bill was approved unanimously by the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, and now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

Cash App, Venmo and Zelle — all of which allow users to transfer and receive funds with the touch of a button — indicate on their websites that payments typically can't be canceled once they're submitted.

More from New Jersey 101.5:

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM