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Payment applications are growing more popular, but users may be at risk

Jul 27, 2015

Venmo's welcome screen.
Credit Screenshot from Venmo.com

Venmo is a payment application with a social media aspect built-in. Users can easily transfer money to others who use the app, and anyone who is Facebook friends with them can see what the transaction is for.

But the app is attached to users’ bank account, debit card or credit card, and its safety has been continually questioned.

Two of Stateside's interns brought up the application's popularity at the daily production meeting, and host Zoe Clark was taken aback. Why would people want to see what others are doing with their money?

Intern Jake Offenhartz says he doesn't think most users scroll through to see what others are using it for very often, but this feature can make it more fun. Users are required to add a description to each payment or request. They can include emojis, or charge others for something they would never actually pay for. It adds humor to asking people to pay you back. 

And it's also useful. Intern Katrina Shafer says asking other roommates for utility payments is simple and easier than trying to receive checks or cash from everyone.

But is the ease of use worth risking a possible hack?

Michigan Radio's Social Media Manager Kimberly Springer says payment applications often go through a security breach before they truly improve. 

"It seems like with a lot of these services, they need to have one significant security breach, a kind of coming of age security breach, before they get their act together.”

And Venmo experienced this around February of this year. Select users began to see large amounts of money leave their bank accounts through Venmo payments. Then, when trying to log into their accounts, they found their password had been changed. Users received no notification from Venmo that such a large amount had been paid from their account.

Springer says the application has quickly worked to improve its security, but she still isn’t a user.

As Google Pay, Apple Wallet, Venmo and similar payment apps become more commonly used, Springer suggests if users want to create an account that they attach their credit card rather than their debit card or bank account because of the theft protection usually offered by credit card companies. She also advocates setting up a separate account with a small amount of money, and to avoid linking your checking and savings.

Update: representatives from Venmo got in touch to let us know about enhanced security features, such as improved account change notifications (yay!) and multi-step authorization. In other words, greater awareness of changes to a Venmo account and more than one layer of security---both good things to look for in an app that has your personal info. You can read more on the Venmo blog. - Kimberly Springer, Social Media Producer