‘She’d been sending herself payments from me’: Venmo users on discovering secrets on the app | Apps

Officially, Venmo is an app for transferring money from one person to another. In the US, where most banks do not offer instant free money transfers, it was revolutionary for simple things like splitting the bill on dinner, or send their roommates half of the rent. But because the Venmo app has a “home feed”, an endless scroll that shows payments between users, it’s also a sneaky form of social media. You can see how your friends spend their money – and who they spend it with.

After looking through my account, I now know that my high school soccer coach gave his wife money to spend at Petco last night. A friend of a friend went out for pizza. An old co-worker paid her dad for HBOMax. A man I met once exclusively sends people payments for the horse emoji – I assume this is code for ketamine, the horse tranquilizer/party drug, but maybe he has a secret gambling habit.

Though users have the option to make their payments private, many forget to. When Daily Beast journalists snooped Matt Gaetz’s transactions, they discovered the Florida Representative had paid an accused sex trafficker through the app.

Even Joe Biden didn’t have his account switched to private. It took Buzzfeed reporters less than 10 minutes to find the president’s personal account, where he reportedly sends his grandchildren funds.

What does this mean for the rest of us? A study conducted by experts at the University of Southern California found that two in five Venmo users publicly reveal “sensitive information” on the app. Another researcher documented a year’s worth of public interactions in the lives of strangers on Venmo and found what Vice called “a soap opera”: breakups, drug deals, payments to sugar daddies. We’re all accidentally telling on ourselves.

We spoke to people who learned things they shouldn’t have on the app. But before you read on, maybe go check your privacy settings.

‘She never said what the money was for’

Two years ago, I met a woman who worked at the mall. I asked her out, and we started dating. We were together for about 10 months. I trusted her. We would share each other’s phones when we needed to make calls or look something up; if her phone was right in front of me, I’d use hers. Or, she’d use mine. I didn’t really think much about it.

I owned a property at that time and I used Venmo for things associated with managing it, like paying the lawn care company for work. I barely looked at the app. It’s one of those things where I installed it, set it up, and forgot about it. I probably checked it every couple of months.

One day I logged into Venmo, and I saw that my girlfriend had been sending herself payments from me. I hadn’t noticed the payments, because they were rather small – maybe $20 every few months. It added up to around $80 or $100 total.

When someone steals from you, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to realize that person’s got to go. I confronted her and asked her what happened, but she didn’t have anything to say. She was out by the end of the day, and she never said what the money was for.

Now, I’m more aware about not leaving myself logged into my accounts on different devices. And I deleted Venmo. I don’t think I will ever use it again.

Tim Connor, 31, Chattanooga, Tennessee

‘He was sending her money for birth control’

When I was a college student in Connecticut, I dated a boy long-distance. He lived in Boston, so we saw each other on weekends, mostly.

One day – actually, the week before Valentine’s Day – I was in the middle of my school’s dining hall, and I opened Venmo to pay a friend I’d gone out with for dinner the night before. The first thing I saw was a payment from my boyfriend to another girl he had mentioned to me as being a friend. The subject line was just three emojis: a circle with a slash over it, a mom with a baby, and a pill.

It looked like he was sending her money for birth control. I thought, there must be something I’m not getting here.

I clicked on the girl’s page, and there were hundreds of transactions between the two of them. The labels for the payments said, “date night”, and things like that. I got on the phone with my boyfriend immediately and asked what happened. He didn’t try to hide it, but at first he did try to hit me with, “It’s not what you think…” He told me it was just a joke. But he didn’t have an answer for what it was. I found out he’d sent her money for the morning after pill.

The first thing I did was break up with him. The second thing I did was turn all my shit on private. It was hard to use Venmo for a while. When I opened it, it kind of felt like going to the coffee shop where you got dumped at. It felt weird that I’d caught someone cheating in a virtual space. The idea of having a money-based social media platform does rub me the wrong way.

My ex and I didn’t talk for two years, but we ultimately have built a decent friendship. The first time we went out as friends, we split the bill, and I had to unblock him on Venmo so he could pay me back.

Kat, 25, Connecticut

‘Certain payments looked like code language for meeting up’

I was scrolling through my Venmo newsfeed when I noticed something strange: one of my friends was sending money to someone I didn’t recognize. I generally don’t lurk through my activity feed, but it piqued my curiosity. I looked for clues, like what the payments were, or if there were any comments on the payments. Certain payments looked like code language for meeting up. I realized that my friend was cheating on their partner.

I was sure he was cheating, or at least trying to hide something. I decided not to confront him. I was not particularly close to him, but I still felt uncomfortable knowing something I wasn’t meant to know. I decided that it wasn’t my place to get involved. I also decided to cut ties with them to avoid any conflicts that might arise from me knowing what happened.

I no longer take my Venmo activity for granted. I’m more aware of the potential dangers of using Venmo and it’s made me more vigilant when using the platform. I now double-check that I’m sending payments to the right person, and I’m more cautious about my comments on payments.

Mark, 32, St. Louis Missouri

‘They were incentivizing themselves to work with the threat of having to contribute to a pot of money’

One time I was paying someone back for dinner on Venmo, and I saw payments from people I know with the subject line, “Failed again,” and the skull and crossbones emojis. They were paying each other $20. All of them were college professors like me, who study cognitive psychology.

I had to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out what they were paying for, but I learned the payments were for failing to write that week. They were incentivizing themselves to work with the threat of having to contribute to the pot of money. It was a regular thing they did: they met online every week to discuss their work, and if they don’t make the commitment, they had to pay. I’m not sure what exactly the money went to. These people live all over the world, so I think they were using it to get drinks when they met up at academic conferences.

I asked if I could join the group, because it sounded fun, but they told me that I was too senior – they were all assistant professors, and at the time I was an associate professor. The thought crossed my mind that if I did join, I’d never end up paying –instead of submitting the payment, I’d just sit down and write. But for some of them, maybe not having to fork over $20 a week was financial motivation.

They’re all very productive people. I don’t know if they still have this group, but they’ve all written lots of journal articles and papers since then.

Andrew Shtulman, 43, Pasadena, California

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