Is Your Private Info Exposed on Venmo? What You Need to Know about Venmo Privacy
Would you want all the transactions in your bank account to be publicly available to anyone who cared to look? Probably not. Our bank accounts contain private, sensitive information. That transaction information reveals a lot about our financial situation, who we buy from, and who sends us money. But if the thought of your bank transactions becoming available to the public makes you uncomfortable, it’s time to look at your Venmo privacy. If you use Venmo, you’re likely revealing a lot more private information than you think.
How Venmo Works
Venmo is a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app. Its basic function is to let individuals send money quickly and digitally to other individuals. It also has a strong social component that makes it almost like a fusion between a payment app and a social network. You are able to have a friends list like you would on a social media account. You can also include comments with payments or requests for payment, and you can see a “feed” of transactions your friends have made and their comments.
Venmo can be very useful. It makes it convenient to split bills with roommates, divide up restaurant checks or event tickets between friends, or pay someone back for the money they loaned you. However, it sometimes gets a bad rap because scammers love Venmo, too. Scammers like that once they convince you to send them money, it’s almost impossible for you to get it back. They like to incorporate apps like Venmo (and other P2P payment apps, like CashApp) as their way to get paid for other scams.
What You’re Revealing on Venmo
When you sign up for Venmo, your transactions are public by default. Anyone could get on Venmo’s general feed and see your transactions. Or they could access Venmo’s public API and see all your transactions, including the usernames of the people you sent money to or received money from, the dates of each transaction, and any comments. It is possible to manually hide your transactions in the privacy settings. But if you don’t know it’s public by default, you may be publicly broadcasting more than you wanted to reveal.
An even bigger risk to your Venmo privacy is the friends list. Your friends list is public by default as well, but unlike your transactions, you cannot make it private. Venmo also encourages you to import friends from your phone contacts or from Facebook. If you do so, it becomes a completely public list of your connections. Anyone can use that to uncover people you pay regularly. It can be used to identify your personal and professional connections.
You may wonder how much harm it can really do to have your list of connections publicly available. But it can also be exploited. You could be cyberstalked through your Venmo info. People have exposed reporters’ anonymous sources or professionals’ private client lists through Venmo. US federal agencies have used public Venmo friends lists in criminal cases. And one fan even figured out who won a season of The Bachelor through public Venmo connections. It may not seem dangerous, but a malicious actor can do a lot with that data.
Venmo Privacy Concerns in the News
The Bachelor contestants aren’t the only people who are having problems with Venmo privacy. BuzFeed news reporters found President Joe Biden’s private Venmo account, which they then used to find First Lady Jill Biden and uncover private social connections. And a former aide to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas left his transactions public, which exposed several large payments from lawyers that had been Justice Thomas’s legal clerks.
Privacy experts have warned for years that we need to be paying attention to Venmo privacy and what we might be revealing. Public Venmo data has revealed drug habits, breakups, couples’ fights, and even what kind of pet people have and where they prefer to eat.
The Realistic Risks
Chances are you’re not the president, a Supreme Court justice, or a contestant on The Bachelor. But even ordinary people are at risk. Say you go to a bar and pay the cover fee through Venmo. If the bar hasn’t made their transactions private, there’s now a record of when you went there – along with everyone else who went to that bar.
Pay your rent with Venmo? A dedicated stalker may be able to find your address. Use it to split the happy hour bill with your coworkers? Someone may be able to find out where you work. Trying to keep some transactions secret from someone? The exact thing you’re trying to hide may be publicly available if they wanted to look.
There are other risks, as well. If your transactions aren’t private, scammers can see you in the public feed. They can then send spam requests hoping you’ll accidentally hit “Pay” and send them your money. One of the biggest risks, though, is that it’s yet another data point companies can use to build a profile about you. If they know who you’re connected with, what you’re buying, and when they’re buying it, they can use that to manipulate you in the future.
How to Improve your Venmo Privacy
Now that you’re aware of the risks, it’s time for some good news. It is possible to stay safe and keep your private info private and still use Venmo! Most of the steps towards increasing your Venmo privacy are very simple to take.
First, change your privacy settings so your transactions aren’t public. You can do this in the Settings menu by tapping “Privacy,” tapping “Default Privacy Setting,” and selecting “Private.” But this only protects your transactions from this point on. To really increase your Venmo privacy, tap “Past Transactions” and set that to “Private” as well.
Second, use an anonymous username. Lots of people use their real name – Venmo encourages it so it’s easier for your friends to find you. But if your friends can find you, so can anyone else. By setting it to something more anonymous, you can protect your privacy. Change your username in the Settings menu by tapping “Edit Profile.”
Third, limit the number of friends you have. You can’t hide your friends list, and that’s a big Venmo privacy issue. By removing friends that you don’t regularly Venmo with, you will limit the amount of information someone can get about you. To remove a friend, go to their profile, tap the “Friends” checkmark, and select “Unfriend.” If you feel someone is a threat to your privacy, you can also block them by going to their profile, tapping the three circles in the upper right corner, and selecting “Block User.” Someone who you have blocked won’t be able to see or search for you on Venmo.
The Bottom Line on Venmo Privacy Risks
If you’re using Venmo, you may be exposing more information than you thought. There are some steps you can take to improve your Venmo privacy and use the app more safely. But since Venmo doesn’t allow you to make your friends list private, there will always be a little bit of your information exposed.
The way to get the most security is unfortunately also the most inconvenient: Use Venmo as little as possible. By using the app less and paying with other options when possible, it will have less of your private information to potentially expose.
There’s nothing wrong with using Venmo. It is convenient and can make your life easier in a lot of ways. But if you are going to use it, it’s important to be aware of the risks, follow good security practices, and take steps to protect yourself. You can use Venmo without exposing a lot of private information. But you do have to take some steps to protect your privacy.
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