When Deniella Zambrowsky has to split the cost of concert tickets with her friends, she turns to an app: Venmo.
“It is kind of sketchy to me, but at the same time, I have yet to find a reason behind why it is so sketchy,” said Zambrowsky, a junior interior design student at Washington State University from Redmond, Washington. “Nothing has happened to me yet.”
Venmo, Apple Pay, and Snapcash are some of the most popular peer-to-peer money transferring apps used by millennials today, according to a report last year multimedia financial services company The Motley Fool. Venmo users transmitted $8 billion in the second quarter of 2017, according to PayPal, which owns the company. Zelle, which is backed by dozens of banks, and Facebook’s What’s App are also part of a network that now transfers more than $100 billion annually in the U.S.
A 2016 study by the U.S. Federal Reserve found only 6 percent of people felt their personal information was “very safe” when using a mobile phone to make a payment.
Ayn Dietrich-Williams, FBI Seattle Field Office public affairs officer, explained via email that many peer-to-peer software systems can be vulnerable.
“In fact, some worms have been specifically written to spread by popular Peer-to-Peer networks,” Dietrich-Williams said. “Also, if Peer-to-Peer software is not properly configured, you may be unknowingly opening up the contents of your entire device for others to see and download your private information.”
Dietrich-Williams said the technology can be used for illicit and criminal purposes, from buying drugs to purchasing child pornography.
According to Venmo’s own security policy, the app is designed for “payments between friends and people who trust each other.” Venmo lets users leave public comments or emojis after each transaction.
Small businesses are using the apps as well. Brittani Danielson, a freelance photographer from Spokane, said she uses Venmo to receive payments for her work.
“My clients have to pay me through Venmo,” Danielson said. “I also use Venmo when I sell things on the free-for-sale Facebook page, and I use it to pay friends back for dinners or lunches.”
Danielson said that she feels safe using Venmo because the money usually takes a few business days to transfer.
“This makes me feel safe because they [Venmo] are making sure that the transaction is legitimate,” Danielson said.
Zambrowsky said she hasn’t seen any fraudulent activity on her account.
“But I’m still cautious,” Zambrowsky said. “I will check my bank account and go through my transactions.”
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