It was a normal night, just like any other night. I went with friends to my favorite local restaurant, the Copabanana for dinner and drinks. There was lots of laughter, all was well.
Until Venmo shut down my account and launched an investigation into my activity.
You see, I had Venmo’d money to a friend who had generously agreed to pay with her credit card. Since we were at Copabanana, in the Venmo description I wrote, “the hottest spot north of Havana,” a clear reference to Barry Manilow’s song lyrics. Venmo immediately froze both my account and my friend’s, and I got the following email from Cippy, a Venmo support agent.
Hello Scott Rubenstein,
Thanks for using Venmo!
We’re reaching out in hopes that you can help us better understand some recent activity on your account.
Venmo is a fully regulated Money Service Business committed to providing our users a safe and easy way to send and receive payments. In support of this commitment our compliance department implements the proper controls to ensure our payment platform is properly being used. To ensure this we need your help in explaining a recent transaction.
On 9/29/18, you sent a payment for, “The hottest spot north of Havana.” We’re trying to understand:
* your reference to “Havana.”
* purpose of this payment, including a complete and detailed explanation of what you intended to pay for and the establishment/location if applicable.
We are asking because we are committed to providing you with a secure payments platform and our regulatory requirements as a Money Services Business include screening certain activity.
Please reply back with the requested information, so we can update your account.
Thanks for your help on this.
Best Regards ,
I got the same email again a few minutes later from “Alex” also at Venmo support. They were inundating me! What was happening? This was an innocent transaction for some simple margs and food and now I had to explain it? I was not pleased. I sent the following response:
I also got this message from your colleague Alex so I hope this one reply will suffice.
Last night I went to dinner with two friends at a restaurant near my home in West Philadelphia called Copabanana, located at 4000 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. I ate a burger and fries and also had an alcoholic beverage. One friend put the entire bill on her credit card so I paid her back via Venmo.
Because the name of the restaurant is a riff on the famous Copacabana club in New York, I was quoting lyrics from the hit Barry Manilow song with the same name. In the song, he refers to the Copacabana as “the hottest spot north of Havana.”
I hope I could be helpful in answering your questions and that my Venmo transaction can be completed. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
A third person, Kerry, wrote me back:
Thanks so much for helping us with our request for information!
We have removed the restrictions on your account and have made note of the details you provided. We appreciate your help.
Enjoy using Venmo!
Kerry Venmo Support
How many people do they have on my case?! What were they afraid of? Do they think I was part of some international conspiracy laundering money in Cuba?
Word to the wise: Next time you use Venmo, be careful what you put in the description. You may trigger a multinational investigation.