This is how she quickly lost $1,300 to a stranger on Venmo! (2019 update)

No, this isn't how to use Venmo! Don't send money to strangers.

Cindy Baker thought she understood how to use Venmo. She didn’t. Her confusion about the money transfer app led her to send $1,300 from her bank account directly to a virtual stranger. And that person refuses to return it.

Now she is asking the Elliott Advocacy team for help.

Baker’s expensive lesson on how to use Venmo safely is one that anyone considering using a money transfer app should read. Although Venmo is a convenient way to send funds to friends and family, there are dangers involved. That is to say; the system is much like a wire transfer — once you hit send, your cash is gone. And retrieving it can be impossible.

Learning how to use Venmo — a money transfer app

Baker was planning a girls’ weekend to Las Vegas for herself and her daughters. She needed two rooms for two nights. Looking for economical options, she turned to Vegas Hotel Escapes, a site that a casual acquaintance recommended.

“I was working directly with Byron Copeland,” Baker recalled. “He identified himself as the owner of the company. He was very helpful and gave me a variety of options that would work for us.”

Baker says that she settled on the MGM Grand for their getaway. Copeland then told her that he would need payment in full. Baker said Copeland told her to send $1,300 directly to his personal Venmo account.

Some alarm bells should have gone off for Baker at that moment. But none did. A travel agency should not request payment through a personal Venmo account. More on that shortly.

Having never heard of it before, Baker did not know how to use Venmo. She asked Copeland if he could accept a credit card over the phone. She says that he told her that he preferred Venmo. So she went to the Venmo site. Acquainting herself with the general terms, she registered and connected her bank account to her newly minted Venmo account. It seemed simple enough.

Taking a gamble on Venmo — and Vegas Hotel Escapes

“I sent Byron $1,300 from my Venmo account to his account,” Baker explained. “It was very easy. He received the money immediately. And a few days later, he sent me the hotel voucher. I noticed no mention of the early check-in Byron had promised. But he assured me that everything was in order.”

However the day before her trip, Baker found out everything wasn’t in order.

She called the MGM reservations department directly to confirm her early check-in. And that’s when she received the startling news that she had no reservation at all.

Baker contacted Copeland again via text and asked him what was going on with her prepaid reservation.

“I’m on the phone with the hotel and the wholesaler right now,” he answered. “For some odd reason, your reservation is showing as canceled.”

Although Copeland told Baker that he would figure it out and get her reservation reinstated, Baker declined. She was about to leave for Las Vegas and didn’t want to take a chance of arriving in Sin City without a room. She wasn’t feeling confident about Copeland or Venmo now and she just wanted a refund.

Copeland quickly agreed to return her $1,300 and Baker made a new reservation directly with MGM.

Baker and her crew headed to Las Vegas assuming this mishap was behind her. It wasn’t.

Her problem with Vegas Hotel Escapes and Copeland had only just begun.

Checking Venmo. Where is that $1,300 refund?

Knowing that Venmo provides an instantaneous money transfer, Baker repeatedly checked her account that day for the promised refund. When the entire day went by without any alert from Venmo, she began to get a sinking feeling.

“I texted Byron 20 times that day asking why he hadn’t sent my money back,” Baker reported. “He stopped responding, so I called him.”

She says Copeland answered the phone and told her that he would need one week to return the money.

“At that time, Byron told me that he couldn’t give me the money back until the wholesaler returned it to him,” Baker remembered. “That made sense to me. At that time he was blaming the entire problem on the wholesaler.”

Baker completed her trip to Las Vegas and continued to anxiously await her $1,300 refund. She waited ten days before she began hammering Copeland with texts.

“Give me my money back,” Baker demanded. “Where. Is. My. Refund?! I’m waiting for you to send my money back through Venmo!”

Copeland continued to tell Baker that he had not received the money back from the wholesaler yet. These interactions are memorialized in a plethora of texts between the two.

She made a big Venmo mistake sending money to this stranger through the money transfer app
A snippet of the many texts between Copeland and Baker

So Baker decided to contact the wholesaler directly to find out why it hadn’t returned her money.

The wholesaler will not be sending a refund

When Baker contacted Restel, a hotel reservation center located in Spain, she got more bad news about Vegas Hotel Escapes. She asked the company why it had not returned her money.

Dear Mrs. Baker,

Both reservations are canceled in our system. You have to contact the agency to ask them for this refund. Vegas Hotel Scapes[sic], never paid us for these reservations, so obviously, we have not been able to refund anything.

Sorry, but I can’t help you since we have not invoiced anything for these reservations.

Stunned by this news, Baker realized that her $1,300 was in great jeopardy. And now she finally settled in to read all the terms and conditions of Venmo — something she should have done before using the service.

Never send money to strangers with a money transfer app tied to your bank account

Venmo is a mobile money transfer app offered by Paypal. And is advertised as a way to:

Pay friends and family with a Venmo account using money you have in Venmo, or link your bank account or debit card quickly.

If you’re a regular reader of our site, that last part about funding through a bank account or debit card probably is alarming. It should be.

Spend any time perusing our library of consumer battles and you will invariably come across a person whose problem was compounded by their use of a debit card. (For example: How to get a smoking fee reversed? Like this, Warning: Don’t use a debit card to buy a minipig.)

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers who use their credit cards to make payments to merchants. If a merchant does not provide the goods or services as agreed upon, you’ll get your money back. Unfortunately, if you use your debit card or direct withdrawal from your bank account, you’re not protected. Baker had funded her Venmo account directly from her bank account. No credit card was involved. And so that avenue for help was already blocked.

Unfortunately, this is not how to use Venmo

But in Baker’s case, the funding source of the payment wasn’t the only reason that this transaction had no protection. Copeland’s personal Venmo account is not an approved merchant account. The transfer was considered a peer-to-peer money transfer.

Since Baker’s Venmo account was tied directly to her bank account, the funds were transferred directly from her bank to Copeland’s bank. Just like a wire transfer. And a bank cannot reverse these types of transactions once they are complete.

Baker pleaded with Venmo for help. Although the representatives were sympathetic, they all pointed out that she had not used the Venmo service in the way it was intended. She had violated the terms and conditions by sending money to a stranger for goods or services.

Venmo explains what went wrong

In its response to Baker, a Venmo Accounts specialist explained:

It appears that person you were transacting with did not fulfill their end of the transaction.

At this point, Venmo does not allow peer to peer merchant-related transactions. We do not offer any buyer or seller protections in these types of cases. These violations of our User Agreement are very high risk and can result in problems for our users.

Please remember that Venmo is a simple way for friends and people who trust each other to send money. It is not designed for uses beyond this purpose. When transacting with people whom you don’t know or trust there is always the potential for problems to arise.

When Copeland had asked Baker to send the money via Venmo, it had seemed innocuous. Although she had never met him personally, she says he was friendly and seemed very interested in helping her arrange the perfect getaway with her daughters. But now his request to pay via Venmo seemed sinister to Baker. She realized she should have questioned the unusual form of payment that she didn’t understand. And the full impact of this mistake suddenly hit her full force.

And that’s when she tried her last resource the Elliott Advocacy team.

Why won’t Vegas Hotel Escapes send Baker her refund?

When Baker sent her long, disturbing paper trail to me, she was desperate. And I also was unfamiliar with all the terms of Venmo. I hoped that there was some way to reverse this transaction. I read through all of Venmo’s conditions of use, and it soon became clear: there wasn’t.

Venmo is not meant to send payment to strangers for things that a consumer wants to purchase. And sending $1,300 to a stranger for two hotel rooms in Las Vegas is not an approved Venmo use.

In a final comment about Baker’s case to her, a Venmo specialist warned:

The moment you send a payment to an active Venmo user, the funds are made available to them. There isn’t a way for us to stop the debit being made from your funding source once you’ve sent a payment to another user.

And for that reason, Venmo is only intended for users to transfer money to friends and family. It is not meant to use with strangers.

Be careful about posting negative reviews too soon

Baker had made many public accusations and complaints about Copeland rather early in her attempts to get her money back. We never recommend this tactic. If you’re hoping to resolve a problem with anyone, it’s essential to keep your interactions concise and pleasant.

These publicly posted reviews of Copeland and Vegas Hotel Escapes on Yelp, Facebook and BBB escalated the negative feelings between Copeland and Baker. In one text Copeland warns that unless Baker takes down her accusations, she won’t receive any refund.

“How about you take down those reviews since you will be getting your money before our refund policy deadline,” Copeland demanded. “Otherwise I’m going to file defamation charges against you.”

Baker says she was never provided any information about a 30-day refund policy.

It is interesting to note that there are several other similar complaints about Vegas Hotel Escapes (and Byron) on Yelp. And the agency receives an F on the BBB for failing to respond to complaints.

Don't send money to strangers on Venmo. Here's why.

Contacting Vegas Hotel Escapes and Venmo

I sent Copeland an email at Vegas Hotel Escapes. It had been six weeks since this hotel fiasco began. I asked Copeland if the refund was merely an oversight and told him that I would be writing an article about Baker’s struggle. I explained that I hoped to have a positive ending to report. He did not respond. I sent two follow-up emails to Copeland’s email address and to Vegas Hotel Escapes.

Again, with no response.

I contacted Venmo for a statement about this case and to find out if there was any possible way to retrieve this money. A Venmo spokesman explained:

Venmo is designed for payments between friends and people who know and trust one other. Users should avoid payments to people you they don’t personally know, especially if it involves a sale for goods and services (for example, concert tickets, electronic equipment, sneakers, a watch, or other merchandise). These payments are potentially high risk, and users could lose their money without getting what they paid for.  

We have teams dedicated to fraud prevention, support, and operations working tirelessly behind the scenes. Specifically, we use bank grade security systems and data encryption. We also use multifactor authentication when using new devices and email notifications, should passwords be changed.

To be continued…

Unfortunately, as I suspected, Venmo can’t provide a positive resolution for Baker.

And now it has been ten weeks since Copeland first promised a refund to Baker. She is busy preparing a small claims lawsuit against Copeland. He is no longer responding to Baker, and this appears to be her only possible recourse.

I sent one more request for comment to Copeland this week. I warned that I would only be able to report Baker’s rendition of her experience if he did not respond. He did not. And we continue to welcome his explanation as to what happened here and why Baker’s money is still in his possession.

Remember when you send money via a wire transfer or a money transfer app such as Venmo or Chase’s QuickPay, make sure you understand the service. If you don’t, you might be taking a gamble that you just can’t win.

2019 Update: Nevada Consumer Affairs visits Vegas Hotel Escapes

Two days after we published this article in November 2018, the chief investigator from Nevada Consumer Affairs (NCA) visited the physical location of Vegas Hotel Escapes concerning Baker’s complaint. The investigator spoke with an employee of Vegas Hotel Escapes. In the NCA report that employee is not identified by name but promised to process the refund for Baker immediately. NCA required that the payment be made through its office.

One month later, when NCA had not received the payment, it sent a Final Demand notice to Vegas Hotel Escapes. As of this week, Vegas Hotel Escapes has not returned Baker’s $1,300.

Although Baker has not received her money, there is a bit of good news as she sees it. Vegas Hotel Escapes is now dissolved. It is no longer licensed in Nevada and the website is dead.

“At least [Copeland] won’t be doing ‘business’ as that brand anymore,” she told me last week. And NCA is continuing its investigation.

In your opinion, does Venmo hold any liability here?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend