The Risky Boom In Carefree Social Payment Apps : All Tech Considered Lots of young adults are using apps like Venmo to settle all kinds of debts. As the apps get more popular, they've become targets for scammers and hackers. But that hasn't seemed to scare away users.
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The Risky Boom In Carefree Social Payment Apps

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The Risky Boom In Carefree Social Payment Apps

The Risky Boom In Carefree Social Payment Apps

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Splitting the bill at a restaurant can be awkward, an embarrassing test of math skills and the clumsy who-should-pay-for-what questions. But it's 2015, so there are plenty of apps for that. And a lot of young adults are using them to settle all kinds of debts, even to pay rent. The apps promise easy, carefree money transfers. As they get more popular, they become targets for scammers and hackers. But so far, that hasn't scared away users. Noah Nelson of Youth Radio's Turnstyle News tried out one of the more popular mobile payment apps.

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NOAH NELSON: What are you having, Amanda Mae?

AMANDA MAE MEYNCKE: I'm going to get an almond milk latte and an avocado toast.

NELSON: The other morning, I asked my friend Amanda Mae Meyncke, a writer here in Los Angeles, to explain an app to me.

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UNIDENTIFIED SERVER: All right, $14.95.

NELSON: OK, I'll - I'll go ahead and get this, all right?

MEYNCKE: Oh, are you sure?

NELSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get it.

MEYNCKE: OK.

NELSON: I got her to pay me back with this app she uses, Venmo. It's what's known as a peer-to-peer finance app, which is Silicon Valley's way of saying that it lets people pay each other without handling cash or swiping cards. People like to use it to split bills.

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MEYNCKE: There you are, Noah Nelson. It says we're friends.

NELSON: But when she opens up the app, it's not just me that's in there. It's all her friends who use it. And there's this Twitter-like feed showing what people are giving each other money for. It took me a couple of minutes for me to sign up using Facebook and link it to my bank account. The money showed-up instantly in Venmo, but took a bit longer to get to my bank. Amanda Mae got started using the app because of friends she'd go out to eat with. But then she started using it for more critical transactions.

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MEYNCKE: My landlord, who's a girl that's about my age, she just bought her first condo, and I finally got her into the idea of Venmo. I sent her an e-mail about it, and she was like that sounds awesome.

NELSON: Best of all? No pesky checks.

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MEYNCKE: I know exactly when the money is leaving my bank account. I don't have to wait for her to go cash the check.

NELSON: Venmo handled $906 million in transactions in the fourth quarter of 2014. While Venmo is growing in popularity, the company's reputation took a hit earlier this year when two high-profile fraud cases hit the news. The company was criticized for what was seen as a slow response to security flaws.

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MEYNCKE: I'm not too worried about that sort of thing just because even if fraud does occur, it seems like the company will, like, help you out with it and they'll figure it out. And your money is insured through the bank. So I feel, like, just not too worried about that.

NELSON: Venmo made changes this past month to make it harder to hack into accounts, and that response seems to have quieted the critics for now. It doesn't hurt that Venmo doesn't charge users anything, unless you use a credit card; then you're in for 3 percent on every transaction. But while we've been talking about Venmo, it's not the only player here.

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LISA AULTMAN: Yeah, we can use Venmo, but actually I prefer Cash.

NELSON: That's my friend Lisa Aultman. We were splitting the bill at a Korean barbecue, and she didn't mean money. She meant Square Cash, one of Venmo's competitors. I'd used it once, but then deleted it. And that's a whole other problem. There are so many of these apps - Venmo, Cash, Google Wallet, even Facebook's getting in on the action. When it comes time to settle up, trade negotiations breakouts. As for that Korean barbecue, we just ended up paying in cash - not the app, the green stuff. For NPR News, I'm Noah Nelson.

BLOCK: And that story came to us from Turnstyle News, tech and culture coverage from Youth Radio.

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