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Financial Transactions & Social Media in Investigations

  • December 10, 2018
  • by PInow Staff
  • Articles

Social media investigations are growing tools for private investigators to get to the bottom of their clients’ cases. Almost every American can identify social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but what about applications such as Venmo? Most people view Venmo simply as a way to easily send money to their friends and families, but for investigators, it is much more.

What is Venmo?

Venmo is an application that lets an individual connect to his or her bank account to send money to another user. Many people use Venmo to split a bill or pay for utilities/rent to a roommate. 

Users simply request or pay their friends a predetermined amount. The recipient can store the money in their Venmo account to pay other users or transfer the money into their bank account. The transaction must include a description to keep track of the reason for sending or receiving payment.

Venmo Privacy Settings

Public

Many Venmo users have their privacy set to “Public” - meaning that anyone on the internet can view their transaction history. However, regardless if the payments are open to the public, the amount sent is always hidden.

Friends

To easily pay your close friends, Venmo also allows people to “friend” one another. This feature allows them to see their friend’s transactions: who they are sending to and receiving from other users.

When a user sets privacy to “Friends” the exchange is visible to the sender, recipient, and both the sender and recipient’s Venmo friends. Just like “Public,” the actual amount sent is not shown.

Private

Users can also set their transactions to “Private,” meaning that only the accounts involved in the transaction can view the payment and description.

How Investigators can utilize Venmo

While most of the information on Venmo is harmless and inconsequential, investigators can use the public page to research for their client. However, the public feature may assist investigators in tracking who their subject is paying and decipher the reasoning behind a certain payment. Additionally, if their client is friends with the subjects on Venmo, they have a greater chance of tracking payments with that privacy setting. In certain investigations, this may help establish relationships, determine who their landlord could be, or the person they are living with, or find out the subjects eating and social habits.

For example, a Berlin-based investigator, Hang Do Thi Duc, was able to use Venmo’s Public Dashboard to view all exchanges available to anyone with an internet connection. Hang was able to see trends in habits and transactions that certainly some parties would prefer to be kept secret.

Caveats

To have a successful Venmo investigation, the private investigators must be sure that the user is actually the person under investigation. This may be tricky or impossible to completely verify, however, investigators can simply use Venmo as a starting point for their research.

Additionally, many younger users do not put a clear description on some of their Venmo transactions. People often use emojis to describe the exchange. Sometimes it is possible to deduce what the payment is for (e.g. a house emoji may be a rent payment) however, without any specific description, it is hard to prove the true meaning since there can be multiple explanations.

Venmo limits its user’s total payment amounts to $2,999.99 for verified users and $999.99 for unverified users. While outside parties cannot see the amount sent, this monetary limit may restrict some investigations. A private investigator cannot assume a large transaction via Venmo was sent if they are trying to prove an exchange of money exceeding the limit.

Therefore, these caveats should lead the investigator to use Venmo as a starting point for their investigation. Investigators can use Venmo to gather initial evidence for habits, trends, and relationships. Additionally, it's highly suggested that investigators use other social media investigative tactics and surveillance to gather the evidence needed to prove their client’s claim.

Users & Venmo

Venmo (and PInow) understands that many users want control over their settings, especially when it comes to financial information. The intersection of social media and personal financial details create a gray area. If you use Venmo and do not want your information public, go to Settings, Privacy, and choose your preferred settings.

Venmo Privacy Settings


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