Imagine opening up Venmo to pay your friend Hugh for “all those magnificent drugz” and discovering a five-day-old payment of $2,850 to a mysterious entity as legit as that Nigerian prince who keeps emailing you. What would you do?
A recent Slate article chronicled one New York software developer’s struggle after Chase told him someone had dipped into his Venmo and changed his password, locking him out without his knowledge. As it turned out, getting that money back was quite the ordeal. Since that piece ran, Venmo says they’re going to improve their security features, adding two-step authentication and password change notifications on its accounts. But is that realistically enough?
You’ll pay for the convenience when something goes wrong
An easy-to-use app is all well and good til you’re left frantically dialing numbers, sending emails, and tweeting into the abyss looking for almost nonexistent Venmo customer service. In true millennial fashion, Venmo has essentially zero staffers standing by in case of emergency. That’s a totally fine model for Instagram when all that’s at stake are a few ‘likes’, but when you give an app unfettered access to your personal piggy bank it’d be nice if someone picked up the phone when you rang. There is literally no customer service phone number to call on their website. This is bad.
There is literally no customer service phone number to call on their website. This is bad.
This “convenience” will not only cost you emails, tweets, and maybe time on the phone, but it could also cost you actual money. What if your bank doesn’t have the wherewithal to give you a call when something shady goes down? If you’re so worried about convenience, you probably don’t check your monthly statements very carefully.
Oh, but they do have a super chill Twitter handle in case you want to broadcast to all of your followers just how financially f*cked you recently became.
Venmo might actually make you poorer
“It’s much easier to swipe a card than to fork over a twenty,” say the older generations. Except with Venmo, you’re not even swiping a card. You’re essentially sending a tweet that is swiping a card for you. You couldn’t be farther away from actual money if you wanted to be. Does the click of convenience loosen our grip on money and erode our respect for the dollar? Just look at Amazon’s numbers compared to stores or the fact that Amazon Prime users spend double that over non-Amazon users. Plastic feels lighter in hand than dead presidents, but digital dollars can’t even be weighed. Because they are literally weightless.
You’re essentially sending a tweet that is swiping a card for you.
My roommate Willie put this theory to the test last year when he took the bold step of going cash only. He spent way, way less, “mostly because I didn’t have cash on me,” he says. But he adds that his hesitation happened less at the register, but more upstream: at the ATM where he could physically see $20 bills actually leaving his bank account.
Is it really secure?
After Slate’s article, Venmo says they’re ramping up their security. That’s nice, but I just threw my phone at my co-worker and asked him to send himself a dollar. He did without inputting any passwords of any kind. While it’s possible to put a passcode lock onto your Venmo, few people do. It's also not a default setting and the password is just your normal 4-digit phone passcode. Which is really, really easy to snipe.
What you should do instead
Fortunately, there’s a couple viable alternatives. Cash is a good one, but if you’re not used to it, you might misplace it in a pocket and never see it again. Paypal, the less-hip parent company of Venmo, is far more secure, as is Google Wallet. Physical checks and other bank-based services like Chase Quick Pay and Bank of America’s money transfer service are probably the way to go if you have them, because banks are as secure as banks.
In the future of course, none of this will be an relevant, because we will be too busy fighting off Skynet’s Terminators to care about petty issues of misplaced currency. So maybe you shouldn’t listen to me and just enjoy the convenience while you can.