Why does Revolution Money require my social security number?

A couple days ago I found out about Revolution Money Exchange, a competitor to PayPal. It offers a $25 sign-up bonus. I know that many of my readers were initially attracted to Prosper or Lending Club based on sign-up bonuses so I decided to share Revolution Money with my readers. Although it's not peer to peer lending, my audience is web savvy and comfortable with internet finance.

As I signed up, I was promoted for my social security number. Alarm bells went off. There are plenty of reasons not to share personal information online, especially a social security number. I stopped the registration process right there and went searching. Is this a reputable company? Mentions in the mainstream media and the players associated with the company seemed to indicate so.

Washington Post – "Former AOL chairman Steve Case is at it again, this time using his Revolution LLC investment firm to start a new credit card company he's calling Revolution Money…AOL vice chairman emeritus Ted Leonsis will chair the new company…the board also will include former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, former Mastercard CEO Russell Hogg, and former Charles Schwab chief executive David Potruck."

USA Today - "Leonsis predicts the service will have 1 million merchants and 1 million customers signed up within a year."

ReadWriteWeb - "The company recently announced a $50 million Series B round of funding from Citi, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and others."

Bloomberg - Case's Revolution Introduces Credit Card With Lower Fees - Case, 49, has invested $100 million of his own money in Revolution.

Computer World - CEO Jason Hogg says, "At the same time, you have greater security. I think there are opportunities for a better model, and an Internet-based payment platform affords us that opportunity."

Wall Street Journal – "Revolution Money is also offering the first anonymous credit card with PIN-based encrypted technology. There is no name or account number on the card, 'drastically reducing the risk of identity theft, fraudulent charges and other consequences of cards being lost or stolen,' the firm said."

TechCrunch - "Of course, if they want the money, they have to sign up for the application, and link it to their bank account. But that's exactly how PayPal went viral....In truth, Revolution Money sees MoneyExchange as a loss leader for its real business, which is the RevolutionCard, its credit card that undercuts Visa and Mastercard. It has no intention of making money off of MoneyExchange by charging for transactions because in its eyes the online payment service is just a way to build up a valuable network of potential credit card customers. You can be sure that every MoneyExchange member will get an offer for the RevolutionCard. Steve Case is just seeding the market."

Ok, the site seemed legit. As I was returning via search engine I discovered that there were two sites – revolutionmoney.com and revolutionmoneyexchange.com. I got the sinking feeling that one of the two was set up for phishing. Some more searching…

There are others too, unrelated to money, like revolutionhealth.com. Steve Case is trying to build the revolution brand but it makes it easier for phishing websites to capture people's information. From his AOL days Steve Case certainly has experience with phishing.

Two of the most common phishing attacks are link manipulation or website forgery. If users expect different URLs from Revolution Money then it will be easier to be lured into entering private information on a site with a similar URL. It is also more difficult to spot a misspelled URL when it is long like revolutionmoneyexchange.com instead of something shorter like epaypal.com or eBay.com.

URL aside, why does Revolution Money need my social security number? I do not remember giving my SSN to PayPal. Revolution's FAQ gives this answer:

"You might wonder why we ask for certain pieces of information that you may be nervous to share, such as your Social Security Number. We would not ask for any information that was not necessary to enable the security we promise to you. Also, to help the government fight the funding of terrorism and money laundering activities, Federal law requires all financial institutions to obtain, verify and record information that identifies each person who opens an account.With identity theft on the rise, we use your Social Security Number to confirm your identity by cross referencing it against other personal data you provide. This way, if someone were to get a hold of your Social Security Number, a MoneyExchange account could not be set up in your name without knowing your other personal information. So, sometimes it may seem as if you have to share more information about yourself, but in the end it actually protects your financial information to an even greater degree."

There are occasional reports in the news about large losses of data – credit card data, school records and the like. How do I know that Revolution Money is not going to lose my information making me vulnerable to identity theft? I found this answer on their website:

"Your MoneyExchange account is held at First Bank & Trust in Brookings, SD (Member FDIC). Protecting your information is our highest priority."

In the end, everyone has to make a decision about how much information they are willing to share online. Personally I feel comfortable with Revolution Money because there is over $100 million dollars invested in the company. Any public loss of data would instantly cripple the company. They have a lot riding on protecting my data.

What about their privacy policy?

"We may disclose all of the information that we collect..."

"We may disclose nonpublic personal information about you to affiliates and nonaffiliated third parties, including:

  • Financial service providers, such as mortgage bankers, loan companies, securities broker-dealers, and insurance agents;
  • Non-financial companies such as retailers, direct marketers, airlines, and publishers; and
  • Others, such as non-profit organizations."

This is much more liberal than PayPal's privacy policies. While PayPal will share most of your information, they provide more detailed information about when they will share information and generally assure you "will not use this information to market their services to you unless you have approved it."

In the end, I do not think Revolution needs my social security number but they will keep it safe. I think TechCrunch is right - Revolution Money Exchange is a loss leader for Revolution Money Card and we will soon receive offers to sign up for the "revolutionary" new card where I use a PIN and my name is not on the card.

What do you think?

Update (3/26): Revolution Money Exchange has made it easier to get the $25 bonus. Here's the link. After you sign up you can refer others and receive a $10 referral bonus.

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange