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

ISLANDofficially, Venmo is an app for transferring money from one person to another. In the US, where most banks don’t offer instant free money transfers, it was revolutionary for simple things like splitting the bill for dinner or sending their roommates half 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 football coach gave his wife money to spend at Petco last night. A friend of a friend went out for pizza. An old colleague paid his father for HBOMax. A man I once met sends people payments exclusively for the horse emoji – I assume this is code for ketamine, the horse tranquilizer/party drug, but maybe he has a secret gambling habit.

Although users have the option to make their payments private, many forget to do so. When Daily Beast reporters scrutinized Matt Gaetz’s transactions, they discovered the Florida representative had paid an accused sex trafficker through the app.

Even Joe Biden didn’t get to switch his account to private. It took Buzzfeed reporters less than 10 minutes to find the president’s personal account, where he allegedly sends money to his grandchildren.

What does this mean for the rest of us? A study by experts at the University of Southern California found that two out of five Venmo users publicly disclose “sensitive information” on the app. Another researcher documented a year 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 all accidentally tell ourselves.

We talked to people who learned things they shouldn’t have on the app. But before you read on, you might want to 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 would use hers. Or she would use mine. I didn’t really think much of it.

I owned a property at the time, and I used Venmo for things related to 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 other month.

One day I logged into Venmo and saw that my boyfriend had been sending himself payments from me. I hadn’t noticed the payments because they were pretty small—maybe $20 every few months. It came to about $80 or $100 total.

When someone steals from you, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to realize that person has to go. I confronted her and asked her what happened but she had nothing to say. She was out by the end of the day and she never said what the money was for.

Now I am more careful not to leave myself logged into my accounts on different devices. And I deleted Venmo. I don’t think I’ll ever use it again.

Tim Connor, 31, Chattanooga, Tennessee

‘He sent 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 mostly on weekends.

One day—the week before Valentine’s Day, actually—I was in the middle of my school’s dining hall and I opened Venmo to pay a friend I’d gone out to dinner with the night before. The first thing I saw was a payment from my boyfriend to another girl he had mentioned to me as a friend. The subject line was just three emojis: a circle with a slash across it, a mother 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 stuff like that. I immediately got on the phone with my girlfriend and asked what happened. He didn’t try to hide it, but first he tried to hit me with, “It’s not what you think…” He told me it was just a joke. But he had no answer as to what it was. I found out he had 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 crap to private. It was difficult to use Venmo for a while. When I opened it, it felt a bit like going to the coffee shop where you got dumped. It felt weird that I had caught someone cheating in a virtual space. The idea of ​​having a monetized social media platform rubs me the wrong way.

My ex and I didn’t speak for two years, but we eventually 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.

Cat, 25, Connecticut

‘Certain payments looked like code language to meet’

I was scrolling through my Venmo news feed when I noticed something strange: one of my friends was sending money to someone I didn’t recognize. I don’t generally snoop through my activity feed, but this piqued my curiosity. I was looking for clues like what the payments were or if there were comments on the payments. Certain payments looked like code language for meeting. I realized 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 wasn’t very close to him, but I still felt uncomfortable knowing something I wasn’t supposed to know. I decided it was not my place to get involved. I also decided to cut ties with them to avoid any conflict that might arise because I knew what was happening.

I no longer take my Venmo activity for granted. I am more aware of the potential dangers of using Venmo, and it has made me more aware when using the platform. I now double check that I am sending payments to the right person and I am more careful with my comments on payments.

Mark, 32, St. Louis Missouri

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

I once paid someone back for dinner on Venmo and I saw payments from people I know with the subject line “Failure Again” and skull and crossbones emojis. They paid each other $20. All were university professors like me who study cognitive psychology.

I had to do some research to find out what they were paying for, but I learned that the payments were for not writing that week. They motivated themselves to work with the threat of having to contribute to the pool of money. It was a regular thing they did: They met online every week to discuss their work, and if they didn’t commit, 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 used it to get drinks when they met at academic conferences.

I asked if I could join the group because it sounded fun, but they told me I was too senior – they were all assistant professors, and at the time I was an associate professor. The thought occurred to me that if I joined, I would never end up paying – instead of submitting the payment, I would just sit down and write. But for some of them, it was perhaps a financial motivation that they did not have to pay more than 20 dollars a week.

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

Andrew Shtulman, 43, Pasadena, California

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