The mobile-payment app is an effective tool for aspiring detectives and would-be psychologists
The payment app Venmo is useful for splitting bills вЂ” and keeping tabs on partners, exes and crushes.
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Nicole found out the guy she was dating was already in a committed relationship. Abby learned that her ex had most likely hooked up with someone new, and Ben discovered that a long-ago casual fling had apparently developed a drug habit.
The sleuthing tool that cracked these relationship mysteries was not a private investigator, but the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo.
The mobile payment service, which processed more than $35 billion in payments last year, is a no-fuss solution for splitting the dinner bill after a night out with friends.
But Venmo users have found itвЂ™s also an extremely effective tool for keeping tabs on friends, partners and exes, researching crushes, and in some cases, uncovering infidelity. Some even say Venmo is a better method for watching people than more explicitly public social media platforms like Facebook FB, -0.92% or Instagram.
Some users seem to forget that their transactions are public by default, and their payment activity provides an unfiltered paper trail of whatвЂ™s really happening in their lives.
вЂњWhat youвЂ™re seeing on Instagram or Facebook is what they want you to see,вЂќ said Abby Faber, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University. вЂњTheyвЂ™re edited pictures that they put up. But with Venmo, itвЂ™s very normal casual interactions. ItвЂ™s what they were doing and spending money on.вЂќ
In her case, she checked up on her ex-boyfriend and saw he was spending money on pizza and the popular video game FortniteвЂ”and making regular payments to one girl, who Faber guessed is his new hook-up.
She also did some fact-finding on a new crush and saw that she may have competition: he had recently donated to another girlвЂ™s charity event. вЂњNot that I care,вЂќ she said. вЂњItвЂ™s just interesting to see.вЂќ
The social feed is VenmoвЂ™s вЂsecret sauceвЂ™
Venmo has had a social component since it launched in 2021. Users see a feed of both their own friendsвЂ™ payments and total strangersвЂ™ activity every time they open the app, and itвЂ™s easy to look up users. Exact amounts arenвЂ™t listed, but you can see whoвЂ™s paying who and which words or emoji they use to describe the payment.
ThatвЂ™s bad news for people who use Venmo to pay their drug dealer and then actually write вЂњdrugsвЂќ in the paymentвЂ™s description field, but great for amateur detectives. One Chicago woman told MarketWatch she used to do вЂњminor celebrity stalkingвЂќ of вЂњSaturday Night LiveвЂќ cast members and former Disney Channel DIS, +0.83% child actors on the app.
вЂShe paid on Venmo because she wanted me to know she was hanging out with those people.вЂ™
The social feed is VenmoвЂ™s вЂњsecret sauce,вЂќ said Erin Mackey, a spokeswoman for Venmo and its parent company PayPal PYPL, -0.42% . In fact, itвЂ™s usually the reason people are logging on. вЂњOur most active users check Venmo daily and the average user checks Venmo two to three times per weekвЂ”and itвЂ™s not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing.вЂќ
Privacy options have changed
VenmoвЂ™s public-by-default social component caught the eye of the Federal Trade Commission in 2017, and the agency accused Venmo of вЂњmisleadingвЂќ users about the fact that they needed to change two separate privacy settings to make their transactions completely private. Venmo reached a settlement with the FTC, and a company spokesman noted that users now have three options for controlling who can see their payments. вЂњPayments are very personal at heart,вЂќ said spokesman Pablo Rodriguez. вЂњJust like with anything thatвЂ™s social, you have to decide how much you want to share.вЂќ
вЂFellas, it ainвЂ™t safe out there!вЂ™
When it comes to matters of the heart, Venmo users see the appвЂ™s social feed as either an asset or a negative, depending on their relationship goals. вЂњThank you, Venmo, for publicly showing them receipts,вЂќ tweeted a grateful woman after the appвЂ™s payment history confirmed her suspicions about an ex-boyfriend. вЂњOf all the social media platforms to find out your ex was shady about his last relationship,вЂќ she wrote. вЂњVenmo came through like Twitter & IG never did.вЂќ
Meanwhile, another user warned would-be cheatersвЂ”вЂњFellas, it ainвЂ™t safe out there!вЂќвЂ”after his coworker busted her cheating boyfriend with the app.
вЂGuys really suckвЂ™
Nicole Vavro, a 20-year-old college student in Cincinnati, says sheвЂ™s glad she learned a tough but valuable lesson after some Venmo detective work. Vavro had been dating a guy for about six months, but couldnвЂ™t shake a weird feeling about him.
His Facebook, Instagram and Twitter TWTR, -0.29% were all privateвЂ”which, in retrospect, should have set off alarm bells, she says now. So Vavro turned to his Venmo feed for insight. She noticed regular payments to one girl, often accompanied by вЂњflirtyвЂќ descriptions.
Vavro looked up the girlвЂ™s Facebook page and bingo: She was in a committed relationship with the guy Vavro was dating. Vavro confronted him, and he admitted that he hadnвЂ™t been honest about his relationship status and begged Vavro not to tell the other woman. вЂњIt taught me so much,вЂќ Vavro said. вЂњGuys really suck.вЂќ
Nicole Vavro says she learned a tough but valuable lesson after some Venmo sleuthing.
вЂI sat in bed and scrolledвЂ™
Ben Ryan, a best gay hookup app 28-year-old Jersey Shore resident, came across an old fling on Venmo and couldnвЂ™t resist checking to see what he had been up to. вЂњI saw his name come up and I was, like, вЂOh, this is going to be good,вЂ™вЂќ Ryan told MarketWatch. вЂњI couldnвЂ™t believe I was actually doing this. I was going back to 2021. I sat in bed and scrolled.вЂќ
His takeaway: He was a little bit jealous to see some of his friends hanging out with his one-time hook-up. But he decided it was a good thing their relationship didnвЂ™t last, because there were a lot of snowflake emojis in his payment history. Users often use the image when theyвЂ™re buying drugs.
вЂThe average user checks Venmo two to three times per weekвЂ”and itвЂ™s not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing.вЂ™
Why Venmo doesnвЂ™t feel like other social media
It works both ways, too. HeвЂ™s seen clients use Venmo as a tool to hurt each other. A client going through a breakup recently told Lundquist, вЂњShe paid on Venmo because she wanted me to know she was hanging out with those people.вЂќ
When a couple is splitting up, spending money in certain ways can be a declaration of independence, Lundquist said. Exes can use Venmo to say: вЂYou always thought it was dumb I spent money on these things, now here I am, doing it.вЂќ
For some, itвЂ™s just enough to feel connected to friends a half a world away.