We all understand that compliance programs are meant to err on the side of caution. When agencies, such as OFAC, promulgate ambiguous regulations with huge gray areas and where the penalties for missteps are huge, companies understandably try to avoid stepping in those grey areas. But the case described in this post, if true, takes this position to an absurd extreme. It’s one thing to be wary of danger; it’s quite another to scream and hide in a closet every time you see your shadow.
You may not have heard of Venmo, the PayPal company that specializes in making it easy for you to send money to your friends, your handyperson, or your blackmailer, as the case may be. That’s their head of product development, who seems to have been frightened by the camera or a shadow or something, in the picture on the right. According to this report, a woman trying to send $46 dollars to her boyfriend had mistakenly typed “Ahmed” (which was not his first name) in the payment memo. (Thank you, iPhone spell correct!) The result: Venmo didn’t just stop the transfer; it froze her account.
When the (presumably-now-former) Venmo customer asked for her money back and an explanation, she received this (soon-to-be-classic) response:
While ‘Ahmed’ may have been an erroneous entry on your part, it is also a [sic] individual where US-sanctions [sic] apply, and for Venmo to be compliant, we must reach out when these potential sanctions violations are discovered.
Even I am at a loss for words at this response. Yes, there are people named Ahmed on the SDN list. The name appears 1202 times, to be exact. Muhammad appears 2,476 times. Carlos, 243 times. Jose, 362 times. Daniel, 52 times. John, 59 times. So, if Venmo is going to block every account pending investigation every time that money is sent to someone with the first name Muhammad, Carlos, Jose, John or Daniel, the compliance department is going to be very, very busy. Unless, of course, there is some difference that I’m not picking up on between Ahmed and Daniel or John or Jose.
By the way, if you want to send me some money through Venmo, it won’t be any problem. The name Clif appears nowhere on the list. (LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The foregoing two sentences are simply a joke and are not intended in any fashion to be a solicitation or request, either now or at any time in the future, for money, funds, candy, bitcoins, gratuities, coupons, securities, flower arrangements, bacon strips or other items of tangible or intangible value.)