Home / General / “Dear Lawrence, I Know You Are Only Doing Your Job, and I Truly Wish I Could Help Assuage Paypal’s Concerns About My Donation to Syrian Refugees, But…”

“Dear Lawrence, I Know You Are Only Doing Your Job, and I Truly Wish I Could Help Assuage Paypal’s Concerns About My Donation to Syrian Refugees, But…”

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So this has happened since the last time I wrote a guest post here…

December 1, 2015:

Hi Friends and Family,

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and are carrying the spirit forward today on Giving Tuesday. In that spirit, I wanted to see who wants to help out with donations to three great benefits that Liam and I are participating in this week! This would be a great gift to me for my birthday :)

1) The Habitat for Humanity Gingerbread Build. You send a donation to our team, we compete to build the best gingerbread house! This is Habitat’s biggest fundraiser of the year and we are hoping to be among those teams who collects the most in donations. They don’t have a donations page but you could donate using my email address at PayPal and I’ll cut them a check!

2) The Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter. We are signed up for the 5K run this Sunday, though we may do the 3K walk instead if my back doesn’t recover from the Thanksgiving day soccer game that has Garrett and I feeling as creaky as 80-year-olds! Either way, you can donate to the organization in support of our participation at this link.

3) Finally, some of my students associated with the Amnesty International chapter at UMass-Amherst are collecting donations to assist Syrian refugees at a benefit dinner on Sunday. If you send a donation by Paypal and tell me it’s earmarked for Syrian refugees, I’ll make sure it gets there!

Love and Hugs,
Charli

December 6, 2015:

Photo

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?? 

December 24, 2015

Dear Charli Carpenter,

As part of our security measures, we regularly screen activity in the PayPal system. During a recent screening, PayPal’s Compliance Department reviewed your account and identified activity that may be in violation of United States regulations administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

PayPal is committed to complying with and meeting its global regulatory obligations. One obligation is to ensure that our customers, merchants, and partners are also in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including those set forth by OFAC, in their use of PayPal. To ensure that activity and transactions comply with current regulations, PayPal is requesting that you provide the following via email to [email protected]:

  • A subordination letter on official letterhead from Jusoor Syria signed by an officer/director/trustee of the parent organization clearly stating that you are an authorized subordinate organization on behalf of the parent organization.  As intended donation of funds on behalf of Jusoor Syria were attempted to be forwarded to you, this is being requested.

If we don’t hear from you by January 08, 2016, we will limit what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

Sincerely,
Lawrence
PayPal Compliance Department

December 28, 2015:

Dear Lawrence,

This email surprised and confused me. I cannot provide the documentation you’re seeking (or even fully understand why you’re seeking it as your email is very vague). I am not affiliated with the charitable organization Jusoor; I am a professor who attended a student-organized benefit dinner to raise money for Syrian refugees, and passed along a donation from my sister which she made in my honor (through Paypal) as a birthday gift to me on behalf of war-affected children.

It sounds as if you believe I or my sister may have violated US federal regulations by making a charitable donation. This is confusing because the Office of Foreign Assets Control is tasked with enforcing economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security of the US. To my knowledge, Jusoor Syria (the organization my students were collecting money for and which I invited my sister to support) is a charitable organization registered with the IRS in Michigan, specializing in humanitarian and educational assistance to war-affected children.

I am not an expert in foreign assets control or security law, but I cannot see how this charity falls under any of the categories regulated by OFAC, as

  • Michigan is not a foreign country
  • Syrian individuals in Michigan are not targets of foreign sanctions and
  • Humanitarian aid is not synonymous with terrorism.

If you have information I don’t that leads you to think otherwise, please provide me some detail, including any information you may have on Jusoor Syria that would lead you to think they are anything other than a bona-fide US-based charity; and a copy of the OFAC regulations and/or statute you believe I may have inadvertently violated. Thereafter, I will do all I can to answer any specific questions you may have once I better understand the nature of any valid concern you may wish to bring to my attention.

Meanwhile, I understand that you removed the $50 my sister Ami mailed to my account. If it has not already been replaced, and unless you have evidence of malfeasance that would hold up in a court of law, please do so immediately.

I look forward to resolving this matter forthwith.

Sincerely,
Charli Carpenter

January 8, 2016

Hello Charli Carpenter,

We need your help resolving an issue with your account. To give us time to work together on this, we’ve temporarily limited what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

We understand it may be frustrating not to have full access to your PayPal account. We want to work with you to get your account back to normal as quickly as possible.

What’s the problem? You may be buying or selling goods or services that are regulated or prohibited by the U.S. government. We would like to learn more about your business and/or some of your recent transactions.

Case ID Number: PP-004-451-499-039

How you can help: It’s usually pretty easy to take care of things like this. Most of the time, we just need a little more information about your account or latest transactions.

To help us with this and to find out what you can and can’t do with your account until the issue is resolved, log in to your account and go to the Resolution Center.

January 8, 2016

Dear Lawrence,

This morning, I am informed you are limiting my account. I have no basis for understanding this decision, or knowing what more I am supposed to do about it beyond the detailed information I provided about this transaction in my previous letter. If you have a reply to my previous letter that you’d like to send to me, please do so right away.

Meanwhile I am documenting the actions of your company in this situation for my thousands of blog and Twitter followers in the national security and human rights community.

Sincerely,
Charli

January 8, 2016

Dear Charli Carpenter,

I will be more detailed as to why we request what we request.   It is a check and balance.  In this case, this is our way to verify that funds are validly being distributed for this type of aid as it is sanctioned.  The request for the subordination letter is not to confirmed that you are affiliated with the organization but to instead confirm that you are authorized to receive aid on their behalf and forward it to them.

Sincerely,
Lawrence
Paypal Compliance Department

January 10, 2016

Dear Lawrence,

Thank you for following up. I believe I already answered your question about my being an “authorized subordinate organization of Jusoor” in my last letter, when I stated that I am not affiliated with them in any way (including as an “authorized subordinate organization of Jusoor”, whatever that means) – I am simply a citizen who made a donation to a student group collecting money for refugees.

As to your question about whether I am “authorized to receive aid on their behalf and forward it to them” I simply don’t understand your question. Authorized by whom? Why would I need “authorization” from anyone to a) receive money from my sister through Paypal for my birthday and b) to donate that money to the charity of my choice? As far as I know, both actions are covered by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, and Paypal is specifically designed to allow the transfer of money between individuals. I feel that I must be missing something here.

Will you please clarify what specific federal regulations you believe I may have violated by collecting money from my sister and passing it along to a student group collecting donations for war-affected children? Are there any specific Paypal rules I may have inadvertently violated, and where I can find a copy of them? I think I could be more helpful to you if I understood your specific concern here.

The other reason I ask these questions is that I am preparing a written editorial about this incident for two major foreign policy blogs where I write on national security and human rights issues, and I’d like to make sure I have all the facts from your company that I can. That way, I can provide the most fair and balanced account possible, and make sure that other Paypal users have a clear understanding of rules regarding the collection of donations for Syrian refugees.

I’m sure you are aware that an entire generation of Syrian children are growing up displaced without access to schooling. Many Americans, including me and my students, are looking for ways to crowd-source money to support vulnerable Syrian families. More clearly understanding your policy in this regard would be helpful to me as an educator and political blogger specializing in these issues, and I’m sure would be of great interest to my readers.

Thank you,

Charli Carpenter

January 12, 2016

Dear Charli Carpenter,

I’d like to add clarity as I know this can be confusing.  You do not need to provide a letter stating that you are an affiliated member or operate on behalf of Jusoor Syria.  Specifically, we are just looking for a letter issued to you from Jusoor Syria stating that you can receive funds on their behalf.  You are not required to be a member of the organization or to be directly associated with them.  The letter is sufficient.

Sincerely,

Lawrence
Paypal Compliance Department

January 12, 2016

Lawrence,

If I’m understanding you correctly, what you want me to do is contact Jusoor Syria, an organization putting its effort toward getting humanitarian supplies to child victims of the war in Syria, and ask them to spend time, energy and letterhead confirming for you that I had the right, as a US citizen, to make a donation to them. Can you confirm that is what you are asking me to do in order to resolve this?

Charli Carpenter

February 9, 2016

Hi Charli.  Sorry for the delayed repsoned and you are indeed correct.  I just need a letter from Jusoor Syria stating that the receipt of donations on their behalf is ok.

Sincerely,

Lawrence
Paypal Compliance Department

So. About a week ago, I sent a letter back declining to cooperate with what seems to me a rather unethical request:

I realize you are only doing your job, Lawrence, and I truly wish I could help assuage your company’s concerns, but here’s the thing: I cannot in good conscience ask an organization, working to protect child victims of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, to take even a moment of its time and attention away from assisting refugees in order to address your policy.

Without further information or clarification from you, which I have requested, and to which requests you have been unresponsive, it looks to me like what Paypal is doing is a kind of racial profiling. This penalizes your customers for acts of charity toward war-affected civilians from Syria. I cannot and will not abet this behavior by going along with it, least of all for the short-term gain of having my account reactivated – since I very much doubt I will even want to continue doing business with a company that behaves this way…

I also asked “Lawrence” again (as well as the Paypal Help Center) to explain why the mere use of the word “Syria” in a transaction label had provided the kind of “reasonable suspicion” that would justify them freezing my account or seizing my assets.

No response as of yet.

Worth noting:  I am not the first Paypal customer who has been harassed after attempting to raise money to assist war-affected Syrians through legitimate non-profit groups. For example, Maclean’s reports a Paypal customer service representative told Clint LaLonde, whose daughter Maggie’s’ sixth grade fundraiser for Syrian refugees was targeted by Paypal, that “the word ‘Syria’ is flagged because… it’s potentially funding a terrorist organization.” Like me, Clint LaLonde’s Paypal account was suspended and his fundraiser compromised by Paypal’s actions – though they were raising funds for Syrian refugees, not for terrorists.

If the assumption that “all funds going toward Syrians may be going toward terrorists” is indeed the reason behind Paypal’s otherwise inexplicable requests, then that seems problematic to say the least. It is not yet clear to me what legal standing if any I or any Paypal user has to ask them to desist, as Paypal’s User Agreement includes an arbitration clause prohibiting lawsuits, and provides the company broad discretion to block accounts and even seize money if they have a “reasonable suspicion” of illicit activity.

So… some open questions for LGM readers who understand socio-legal issues better than I do as a political scientist, to strengthen my forthcoming media op-eds and articles on this issue:

  1. Can anyone help me understand (since Paypal will not) why Paypal might think it can comply with its federal obligations not to aid Syrian terrorists simply by having Jusoor Syria sign a paper saying I’m allowed to collect donations on its behalf? Since Jusoor a US charity, it’s not regulated by the relevant law (here) which prohibits US citizens from sending money to Syrian entities; if it were a Syrian organization, I can’t see how a letter from them would eliminate my culpability for violating US law on Syrian sanctions. If this is not about the sanctions regime but about something else (perhaps some technical distinction between making a donation oneself versus collecting money from friends and neighbors with the intention of donating later) then why wouldn’t Paypal be equally concerned about my collection of donations for Habitat for Humanity?
  2. Can Paypal’s “reasonable suspicion” clause “reasonably” be used to penalize its customers for humanitarian efforts, which are protected by the first amendment – especially after a user such as myself has provided information that ought to have cleared things up at once, such as the exact information about the US 501© status of the non-profit in question?
  3. Is there any valid reason why the use of the word “Syria” in any transaction to a non-Syrian entity should automatically be seen by Paypal as a “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is violating a sanctions regime or supporting terrorism? Or does this indeed constitute a kind of corporate racial profiling? Where does / should the burden of proof lie in cases like this? To what if anything is this situation analogous? More broadly, does anyone know of case law that settles the question of corporate power to regulate or police the private charitable donations of US citizens to one another, to be used on behalf of humanitarian relief to foreigners?
  4. Am I at all off-base in thinking that there are civil liberties issues at stake here? While I’m pretty certain I’m within my rights to notify the American Civil Liberties Union or Center for Constitutional Rights about what’s going on, neither organization can issue a class action suit against Paypal with myself or any Paypal user as plaintiff, because their User Agreement indemnifies them against class action suits. But could an organization like the ACLU perhaps do so on behalf of legitimate humanitarian organizations (or their beneficiaries) whose right to relief is being impeded by this behavior?
  5. If this behavior is permitted by some combination of contract, constitutional, administrative and/or national security law, what does that mean? And what is our best strategy as informed citizens to push back against it on behalf of Syrian refugees and in service of the wider right to humanitarian relief?* Ideas welcome!

Meanwhile, if you or others have fallen prey to Paypal’s anti-Syria actions, or know stories of those who have, please describe in comments, as I am developing a major editorial for the New York Times on these points and will also be contacting 60 Minutes, Democracy Now! and Last Week Tonight – Paypal’s User Agreement may prohibit lawsuits, but it does not prohibit making a stink!

__________________________
*At minimum, concerned citizens interested in contacting Paypal about suspending accounts of those openly collecting money for Syrian refugees can tweet to Dan Schulman, the Paypal CEO .

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  • Barry Freed

    Wow, well done, and welcome back.

    • It is great to have a Charli post. Alas, PayPal.

      • I will confess that when I saw the title (and before I saw the byline) I thought this was going to be a post about Lessing.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    Can we get a letter on ISIS letterhead, stating that Paypal is an affiliate that is authorized to collect donations for them?

    Asking for a friend.

  • Chuchundra

    As far as I can tell, there are two issues here.

    First, PayPal wants to ensure that if you’re collecting funds as a charitable organization or on the behalf of such an organization, that you are authorized to do so. I had to provide similar documentation when I set up a PayPal account for a charity that had nothing to do with Syria.

    PayPal wants to make sure donations collected on the behalf of charity go to the that charity and not into the pockets of scammers.

    Second, I assume that certain words or collections of words or phrases are flagged by PayPal for review to ensure that monies collected are not used to fund illegal activities.

    • hamletta

      Yeah, if you remember Regretsy, that site raised a lot of money for charity, and they got into a similar feedback loop with Paypal. That was mostly for veterans’ organizations, so not Syria.

      I don’t think Syria is the problem; it’s the potential scam that’s a problem. Which is a drag, because of all the people who get away with claiming they have cancer to fleece the rubes.

      All you can do is stick with it and escalate up the management chain.

      • Ahuitzotl

        you will find that 2nd level supervisors are forbidden to escalate further up the management chain – that’s the current bureaucratic dodge large organisations are using to avoid middle/senior management having to deal with reality or those nasty, nasty, customers

        • cpinva

          “you will find that 2nd level supervisors are forbidden to escalate further up the management chain – that’s the current bureaucratic dodge large organisations are using to avoid middle/senior management having to deal with reality or those nasty, nasty, customers”

          I’m not a lawyer (and yeah, not having to deal with actual customers is probably part of the plan), but my suspicion is that it involves more the potential for putting PayPal at legal risk, than anything else.

          a second-level supervisor usually has very little authority to legally obligate the company for anything. even if they put it to you in writing, it means nothing, because they never had the authority to do so in the first place.

          a VP on the other hand, is perceived to (and usually actually does)have the legal authority to obligate the company, for whatever it is under discussion. the easiest way to ensure no VP (or higher) makes some boneheaded agreement, that the company is then legally on the hook for, is to just keep them hidden away in the basement, under lock and key, to avoid this possibility as entirely as possible.

          this, at least, has been my personal & professional experience with large companies. they’re (as Ms. Carpenter has alluded to) also trying (per legal counsel) trying to avoid actual/perceived involvement in illegal acts, such as money laundering, regardless of who is doing the wash that week.

          Ms. Carpenter’s PayPal friend, “Lawrence”, is way down on the company food chain, and is simply following a set of directions he/she/it has been given by he/she/its supervisor. beyond the fact that they’ve been told to follow these instructions, without deviation, they have no idea why they’re asking her (in the most oblique way possible) all these questions either, except that’s what they get (poorly) paid to do.

          the obliqueness is intentional: the company’s legal counsel’s way of doing exactly what Ms. Carpenter thinks the company is doing, while desperately trying to appear to not be overtly doing it. it’s a high-wire act.

          btw, OT: nice to have you post again Ms. Carpenter, it’s been wayyyyyyyyyyyy too long. I normally only about halfway understand your posts, but I always find them interesting reading. hey, I’m a cpa, not a poly scientist! this makes me, by definition, dull and boring, with no opinions of my own, so I heavily rely on the much smarter posters here for them.

          • Lee Rudolph

            PayPal friend, “Lawrence”

            PayPenPal, surely?

            • cpinva

              I’m officially stealing that!

    • PayPal wants to make sure donations collected on the behalf of charity go to the that charity and not into the pockets of scammers.

      I believe this first arose as a major issue during the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A lot of major charitable organizations still weren’t set up to accept donations online (what a difference a few years makes!) and a bunch of donation funds popped up taking Paypal payments, both legitimate and fraudulent. But they really started cracking down in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake.

      “Syria” is probably flagged because it’s the name of a foreign country and because it refers to a current humanitarian situation. I don’t see any suggestion that anti-terrorism laws or sanctions are involved.

    • MikeJake

      There’s a third issue, which is that Paypal is fucking awful.

      • Judas Peckerwood

        That’s the big one. I can’t tell you how many progressive bloggers, artists, etc. I would like to financially support but do not because PayPal is the only option for giving/purchasing.

        After the way PayPal cut off funding for Wikileaks, I will not support those fucks ever again. Same with the credit card giants like Chase that followed suit.

      • Chuchundra

        Not to put myself in the unenviable position of defending PayPal, but it raises the question, “compared to whom”.

        JP Morgan Chase? Citibank? MBNA? Large financial institutions generally suck, but unless you plan to live in a yurt out in the desert, you have to deal with them.

        I’ve had PayPal accounts for over a decade and I’ve never had any issue with them. They provide services which I would find difficult to replace without significant effort and expense.

    • Manju

      I assume that certain words or collections of words or phrases are flagged

      ”I Could Help Assange” probably made things worse.

      • Hogan

        I’m glad I’m not the only one with that misreading.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Michigan is not a foreign country

    That’s your mistake!

    • Linnaeus

      I knew this joke was coming.

      I will fight you.

      • Ahuitzotl

        at least it wont be a civil war

        • Lee Rudolph

          Upper Peninsula vs. Lower Peninsula?

          • N__B

            Who will defend the Mackinac DMZ?

  • N__B

    Prior to reading the January 12 email, I was thinking that Lawrence was a bot.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      bot or person, the writing has an opaque quality to it that makes you wonder if being understood is even an afterthought

      • N__B

        Yeah. There are all sorts of ways to signal “Go away” and “Fuck you” and he was busy waving those flags.

      • GoDeep

        “Lawrence” is probably an underpaid Malaysian worker who just learned English in an 8 week ” English for Dummies” course last month… This is a downside to global outsourcing… Lawrence is clearly responding based on some vague script and has No actual clue what’s going on.

        • Warren Terra

          Don’t be an ass. “Lawrence”‘s English is fine, even good. I see nothing there to suggest they’re not a native speaker. They quite possibly lack education, training, and authority to usefully address the situation, but that’s got nothing to do with their nationality.

          • Eh. The first two are obvious boilerplate, and the first is probably entirely a form letter generated by computer. “You are indeed correct”, I think, has the earmarks of someone who’s gone to a supervisor and said “WTF am I supposed to do with this?!”

            • Warren Terra

              Oh, sure. Lawrence is an under-trained, under-empowered functionary. But they probably have an idiomatic command of English: as the correspondence continues Lawrence uses contractions, they use works like “ok”, they aren’t excessively formal, etcetera. GoDeep was making a frankly obnoxious assertion that they were some bewildered fish out of water groping along in a language they barely knew.

              • A bewildered fish out of water can easily be a native speaker of the language. It’s almost impossible to tell through email whether they are or not, one way or the other, with this kind of transaction, where the person has almost no freedom to choose how to respond.

                • And frankly I’ve run into native speakers who see nothing wrong with that style of writing in given situations (nor are Asians the biggest offenders when it comes to inadvertently writing badly–I’d say Germans are way up there).

                • AlanInSF

                  Anyone who’s ever been through this recognizes the situation immediately: The person is reading, or typing, from a script, is not allowed to go off script, and perceives whatever you say only to the extent it is necessary to decide which script option he/she will respond with. Has nothing to do with stupid, non-native speaker, robot — they are only allowed to give you the answers in their script, not to craft a response to your question.

          • GoDeep

            Your naiveté is cute. But you should brush up on how call centers work. It’s not that he’s using bad english, it’s that he’s using tightly worded scripting like the Rubiobot and never strays very far from that scripting. Each email merely re summarizes the previous email instead of extending or elaborating on the points. There’s no engagement in dialogue.

            I should know this I worked my way through school working in call centers.

            • Casey

              Can confirm. This is how support works for a large company.

              People are reading too much into this. A naive database query matched on the word “Syria” and it got sent off to someone sending canned responses. People always assume they’re talking to someone who knows something and is just jerking them around. Like the rep could mention this issue to company’s CEO at their weekly golf game, but doesn’t feel like it.

              Usually the best solution is to get someone on the phone. I’m sure Paypal has phone support. Don’t assume you’re talking to somebody with any power or knowledge till you’ve been transferred a couple times.

              Yelling about ones’ rights, or you’re going to call a reporter, or sue the company, or whatever, if this isn’t resolved right away, is fairly non-effective. There are so many genuinely crazy people in the world calling/emailing support that people with actual grievances can end up getting treated poorly. Anyone who’s worked in a call center for more than a couple of months has already heard every name in the book.

              • So by “effective” do you mean effective at getting your account unlocked or getting the policy changed? Because my objective here is not to unlock my account, it’s to get Paypal to change its policy so that it is easier and not harder for people to support Syrian refugees. If you think drawing media attention and looking into legal options are not the best ways to get corporations to change human-rights-non-friendly policies, let me know what your ideas are for that. I’m not sure getting a Paypal manager on the phone is going to do the trick, though it might get my account unlocked but I don’t much care about that.

                • cpinva

                  “So by “effective” do you mean effective at getting your account unlocked or getting the policy changed?”

                  you may well accomplish the former, I can almost guarantee, to a 99.999999999999999% probability, that you will never accomplish the latter, because the company’s legal counsel will not let it. PayPal is concerned about their legal/financial risk, not yours. hence the reason for the policy to begin with.

                  you, and thousands of others, may decide, based on experiences such as this, to not use PayPal’s services again. they will be unhappy about it, but they will survive their disappointment, other thousands will replace you.

                  you may even write a scathing editorial/blog post or two about your experience, and PayPal’s PR Dept. will apologize and hope to do better. none of this will change the policy, because of the potential risk involved in doing so. within a month or so (if that long), it will be pretty much forgotten, as other grievances of the moment take its place.

                  but keep fighting the good fight!

                • sapient

                  Rather than using PayPal to raise funds for an organization, maybe better to set up an account with an organization like First Giving, which is set up to do this. They charge a fee, but so does PayPal.

                  I’m a fan of PayPal, because it makes it easy to pay or donate online without having to give your credit card information to every site on the planet, but they do face some regulatory issues regarding things like scamming, and donating to terrorist organizations, that they have to find institutional ways to avoid.

                • AlanInSF

                  With the platform you have, you might get results. In a similar vein, I and many many other State Farm customers have been protesting for years about State Farm’s leadership involvement in ALEC, and State Farm has been sending us all the same boilerplate letter which, just like your call center guy, completely avoids any hint of responsiveness to the issues we raise.

                • Feathers

                  The problem is that you are asking them to change their policies in order to make it easier for people to steal money from Syrian refugees.

                  I get that this sucks for you, but people pretending to do fundraising on behalf of a charity and then pocketing it themselves is a real problem. Which Paypal has policies in place to guard against. Which you ran afoul of when you sister flagged the money as being intended for a specific charity, not you. Paypal is acting to protect the charity. Presumably, what she should have done is sent you the money as a birthday present and then you give that amount to the charity. There would have been no problem. Your sister flagging it as a donation, presumably for tax purposes, it what got the fraud tag put on it.

                  I happen to really like watching things which fall between the cracks in corporate systems. Your transaction did, because it hit the Syria flag, which it would have passed if the donation had gone directly to the charity, seeing as the charity is has the proper approvals to do work with Syrian refugees. But the money went to you. So Paypal has only your word that the money will be going to the charity. Which is not good enough for Paypal. Now in my world, what they should have done is offer to push the money back to your sister, so that she could either donate it directly or send it to you as an unencumbered birthday present.

                  But they aren’t paying Lawrence enough to let him make that decision.

        • Linnaeus

          English is widely spoken in Malaysia, as it is a mandatory subject in Malaysian schools. So if Lawrence is Malaysian, he is very, very likely to have learned English from primary school onward.

          • GoDeep

            The choice of Malaysia wasn’t by accident. I’ve visited there and they, along with the Philippines and India, do big business in call center support. I’ve found though their grasp of English is not as good as in India or the Philippines.

            Along with talking to cab drivers I have an odd fetish for talking to support people. I always like asking where they’re from. The guy who took my most recent call for help on my phone for instance was from the Philippines but went by the name “Sean”. Sean went out of his way to be helpful and in fact did some favors his company probably didn’t approve of, just to be A nice guy.

            • Linnaeus

              I’ve found though their grasp of English is not as good as in India or the Philippines.

              Which is not quite the same as “took an 8-week English for Dummies course.” YMMV.

  • Joseph Slater

    U.S. law bars money going to Syria, including through intermediaries such as charities. Sad as it is to say, self-proclaimed charitable organizations are the most common sources of money laundering. So yeah, even if the money ostensibly, or even actually, is going to Michigan in the first place, use of the word “Syria” in the transaction will raise a red flag and prompt additional scrutiny from any financial institution. OFAC says you have to have comprehensive controls to avoid such payments, and violations are a matter of strict liability. So this incentivizes very close scrutiny. That is harsh if the charity is legitimate, but this is in some ways an inevitable result of wanting financial sanctions that actually work.

    • Craigo

      NGOs can seek a license from OFAC for humanitarian activity in Syria, but I don’t want to think about that amount of paperwork.

      Food and medicine can be sent directly to Syria without a license though.

      • This organization does educational work. I think their programs are actually for refugees outside Syria, camps in Jordan and such. At any rate they are a registered charity w/in the US and no doubt have the requisite licenses to do aid work in Syria. The OFAC website specifically says you can donate to registered US-based NGOs doing aid work. It’s the US government who polices those NGOs, not Paypal.

        • Joseph Slater

          Again, without defending what PayPal is specifically doing here, it is very possible that an organization could be a registered charity in a state and still not have the required NGO license from OFAC.

          • Right but that’s an issue they’d need to take up with the NGO. Asking me to provide some kind of paper doesn’t address whether they’re licensed.

            • Sly

              Exactly right. As Jusoor Syria is a domestic entity, any transactions made from U.S. citizens to it would not be subject to OFAC compliance. Even if you were donating money directly to people in Syria, it would only be flagged for a potential violation of sanctions against Syria by whatever financial institution is handling that transaction if said funds were being sent to the Syrian government.

              In what I can only describe as a past life, I worked in OFAC compliance for a creditor. And this entire story comes off as bizarre to me.

            • Joseph Slater

              They won’t do that because you are their customer. They have no relationship (that we know of) with the charity.

  • GoDeep

    Did you ever try asking escalating this up to a manager or executive? This seems to me to be one of those times when a worker bee is following some vague stupid policy without really understanding the actual situation.

    • Yes. I contacted the Paypal Customer Support center in accordance w/ their Dispute Resolution guidelines a week ago, giving them a week to provide accurate info before I started blogging. No answer. I also asked Lawrence to refer me to a supervisor. No answer. I’ve also tweeted to the Paypal CEO directly. No answer. I will be following up again on Monday.

      • GoDeep

        Sorry to hear that that really sucks. PayPal is clearly overextended.

      • MD Rackham

        Send a real paper letter to the CEO if you want a response. Most exec offices require a 100% response rate to incoming correspondence. Doesn’t mean you’ll get a useful/satisfying response though.

        Twitter is generally viewed as a form of extortion and ignored outside of that one intern assigned to monitor it. And that intern will have all the freedom of action of Lawrence.

        • Doesn’t mean you’ll get a useful/satisfying response though.

          No, but it will be interesting! ;)

  • Joseph Slater

    Missed the edit window, but to be clear, it’s common that financial institutions, typically banks, will give self-proclaimed charitable organitions a hard look, even if words like “Syria” are not in the name. This can have really sad effects when the charity is legit. But there are a lot of folks trying to get around financial sanctions to do bad things.

    • I actually didn’t object to the initial email. My initial letter provided all the information they should have needed to confirm this is a legit charity and at any rate demonstrate that I had done due diligence and wasn’t involved in anything shady. It was their request that I jump through mystifying bureaucratic hoops to “prove” I have the “authority” to make charitable donations that I find bizarre and frankly a bit offensive.

      • Joseph Slater

        Yeah, they should be cheking out the organization more than whatever the heck it is they are asking of you.

      • It doesn’t sound to me like they’re asking you to prove the charity is legitimate, but that you are collecting money for them rather than, say, one-way plane tickets to Tahiti.

        • Right, but how does getting a piece of paper from the NGO prove that? Hard to see how that prevents scams, but if everyone has to jump over this hurdle in order to provide donations doesn’t that needlessly disincentivize charity?

          • Hogan

            Would sending them a copy of the cancelled check to the charity meet their needs? (Rhetorical question at this point, but maybe worth pursuing.)

            • No because I didn’t actually give it to the charity. It went to a student group collecting money to give to the charity. I could probably get a receipt from the student group, but that’s not what Paypal says it wants.

          • Sly

            More to the point, what the hell does that have to do with OFAC compliance?

  • Denverite

    You should stop referencing constitutional law and constitutional rights. Paypal isn’t a state actor. By definition, they can’t violate your constitutional rights.

    • CC was rebutting Lawrence’s claims that the law required PP to do as it did.

      • Denverite

        I’d still recommend the same. Nothing will get you put in the loon category than telling a big, private company that they are violating your constitutional rights.

        • sonamib

          But she didn’t actually say that. She just said that the US government doesn’t outlaw donations to a charity, because of the First Amendment and all. I read her as reacting to the absurd notion that she did something illegal.

      • LFC

        @ThusBloggedAnderson:
        Re yr ‘DC question’ on twitter (not on twitter, so I can’t answer it there): knapsack, backpack, whatever, is, generally speaking, fine. Won’t prevent you from entering buildings but in many cases will mean that you will either have to let someone inspect the backpack or put it through a metal detector, so a bit of extra hassle. Some bldgs/entrances may require you to ‘check’ it and pick it up on way out. Depends on what the bldg is and what it houses.

        so yes, you can go around and do yr sightseeing, research, business, SCOTUS or D.C. Circuit oral argument, or whatever the **** you are in D.C. for, w a backpack or a knapsack (or whatever).

        (p.s. I assume, although you are well qualified to do so, that you are not arguing a case before the Sup Ct; that was a joke.)

    • cpinva

      “You should stop referencing constitutional law and constitutional rights. Paypal isn’t a state actor. By definition, they can’t violate your constitutional rights.”

      I believe there are a couple of bakeries that would take issue with your claim. specifically, violating your civil rights under law, even as a private actor, can cause you loads of grief and cash.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Assuming you’re talking about the various same-sex wedding cake cases, the bakeries weren’t being prosecuted for violating anybody’s constitutional rights. They were being prosecuted for violating antidiscrimination laws that included sexual orientation as a protected category.

  • Joseph Slater

    None of this is to say that PayPal is handling your situation skillfully. Just that this type of thing isn’t unusual, and that there are reasons it.

  • The contrast between the supposed seriousness of the matter and communications apparently dashed off on a smartphone at a bar after midnight is particularly jarring.

    I will be more detailed as to why we request what we request. It is a check and balance.

    Yeah. Check and balance sounds good. I heard about that in civics class.

    In this case, this is our way to verify that funds are validly being distributed for this type of aid as it is sanctioned. The request for the subordination letter is not to confirmed [sic]

    … Is subordination the correct word here?

    that you are affiliated with the organization but to instead confirm that you are authorized to receive aid on their behalf and forward it to them.

    ????? Since when has making a donation to a group required that group’s authorization?

    Having said all of that, I can’t even understand what “Lawrence” might want. Sorry. Also, welcome back!

    • Denverite

      I read his communications as implying that they are concerned that individuals are fundraising for ISIS/ISIL and using Paypal to do it (i.e., they’re collecting illicit donations). The thing Paypal wants is a letter from the Syrian charity indicating that the “fundraisers” are authorized to do so.

      If I’m reading this right, they’re just trying to set up roadblocks to make it difficult for people to raise money and send it to Syria (for any purpose).

      • That’s the whole point. It’s not a Syrian charity. It’s an American charity, which they can easily verify based on the information in my first letter. So it’s not covered by their obligations under US sanctions law.

        • Denverite

          Oh sure. I don’t think it matters (if I’m reading between the lines correctly). They’ve either been told by the government or they’ve decided on their own accord to make it difficult to get money to Syria, even if it’s indirectly through an American charity.

          • As far as I can tell they have not been told this by the government. Here is a link to the actual law. It prohibits transfers of money by US citizens to Syria or a Syrian entity without a specific license. US citizens are, however, allow to make donations to US NGOs or third-party NGOs assisting Syria.

            And indeed, according to the OFAC website (p. 230), “U.S. depository institutions, including banks, and U.S.-registered money transmitters, are allowed to process transfers of funds to or from Syria on behalf of U.S. NGOs and third-country NGOs in support of the not-for-profit activities described in OFAC General License No. 11.*”

            Therefore, as far as I can tell, the main thing that Paypal needs to determine in order to know whether or not I, or any user, or Paypal itself, is in compliance with OFAC regulations is whether or not the money is going to a non-Syrian-based entity. Since I explained to Paypal in my very first reply that the organization in question was US-based – and since they could easily verify this themselves, it is unclear why that did not resolve the issue.

            • Denverite

              You wouldn’t be able to tell if they’d been told this by the feds. Those would be private communications.

        • The other point, though, is that I actually did not make a donation to this charity. I made a donation to a student fundraiser run by the UMass Amnesty International chapter. They (presumably) passed the funds along to Jussoor. At least they said they did. And I didn’t make that donation through Paypal. My sister sent me a birthday gift through Paypal, which she meant for me to donate to some charity that would help refugees.

          The point is, how much power should Paypal have, at how many links down the crowd-sourcing chain, to trace or try to police how people are using money for charitable donations? It’s a very curious question.

        • Joseph Slater

          No, American charities are covered under sanctions law, even if the charity is registered under state law.

          Also, the sanctions system is the government regulating by enforcing strict penalties on financial institutions if they violate the law.

          • The thing is, AI should have some recommendation for people dealing with this kind of thing, but maybe CC to students to AI is all just too many levels for the information to be conveyed in a way that can fit PP’s bureaucratic slots.

      • If the intent is to make sure PP isn’t acting as a conduit for terrorist funds, it would have clear guidelines, not “Lawrence” of the increasingly cryptic emails.

        I’m not even sure she meets their definition of a fundraiser. (But again, I’m not sure what PP wants from her.)

      • If I’m reading this right, they’re just trying to set up roadblocks to make it difficult for people to raise money and send it to Syria (for any purpose).

        I think you’re reading it right, and I think this is the primarily issue I have with this. Deliberately putting up barriers to providing humanitarian relief to refugees in general, no less refugees of a particular nationality, seems wrong to me. It seems the government should be incentivizing corporations to facilitate people doing charity, the same way it does with tax-exemptions, not encouraging them to make it harder for those of a particular nationality or religion.

    • Since when has making a donation to a group required that group’s authorization?

      “[A]uthorized to receive aid on their behalf” is the important part. As I understand it, if you use PayPal to collect funds for a given organization, you are always required to provide paperwork indicating that said organization consents to you doing so. This is primarily an anti-scamming policy, but in some cases I believe it also is necessary in order to properly document the source of donations. I know in the political contributions world there’s a meaningful legal difference between “$x from Jim Bob” and “$x bundled by Jim Bob from twenty other people”.

  • What’s weird is the disproportionality. It’s obvious this was a personal charitable action like thousands of people engage in every day. The request for something that was obviously nonexistent, and inappropriate–the formal letter stating that this wasn’t in fact a personal action–is obnoxious, and that they would shut down the account for not having it is frightening.

    • steverinoCT

      What struck me is that they are looking at it as Charli being a fundraiser– she is soliciting money (as evidenced by her sister sending hers earmarked for Syria) and passing it along. As opposed to me, out of the blue, just making a donation off my credit card. Hence the added attention.

  • Joe_JP

    Nice to see you even as a guest but sad it’s for this reason. Thanks for sharing and hope the comments above are of some assistance.

  • koolhand21

    Just last year, PayPal paid almost $8 million in fines for hundreds of violations of the PATRIOT Act and related compliance activities.

    They had to set up triggers and that word is one. My experiences in selling distressed assets for banks led to lots of inane contact with compliance issues. Lucky you. It’s a kind of do loop.

    • Joseph Slater

      Indeed, last year a couple of multinational banks were fined multiple billions of dollars for sanctions violations. PayPal doesn’t want to mess with you personally, and they probably don’t care about what your transaction is, except to the extent it could get them into really big trouble with the feds. Now again, maybe they aren’t handling or explaining this in the best way, but they have incentives to try to avoid violations.

      • Mrs Tilton

        Indeed. In fact, as a technical matter those (non-US) international banks cannot violate an OFAC sanction, as OFAC sanctions obligate only US persons. DOJ has gone after them on theories such as: “sure, you might not be bound by the OFAC sanction, but because some of the electrons involved in your transaction travelled through US servers or whatever, you have put persons in the US into the position of facilitating payment to a Bad Person/Bad Country”. These are examples of grotesque extraterritorial overreach, and I’d like to think that (say) UBS would, in due course, be vindicated by SCOTUS. But if you’re UBS, you don’t fight it all the way to SCOTUS. You settle as quickly and (relatively) quietly and (relatively) cheaply as you can, and you move on. It’s essentially a shake-down. And PayPal is a US person, so it is not even remotely questionable that they can be legitimately dinged both for funding a Bad Person/Bad Country and for facilitating somebody else doing so.

        And a rabid DOJ is only part of the problem. OFAC regs are often impenetrably vague, and OFAC are terrible at providing interpretive guidance. (Basically, they shrug and say, “Eh, go ahead and do what you want to do, if you’re feeling lucky”.)

        I don’t want to spend too much time defending PayPal here. To the extent that their actions were driven by OFAC concerns, they are understandable in motivation (given how horrible OFAC and DOJ can be), but cack-handed in execution. Still, it should be no surprise that PayPal are scared shitless of OFAC/DOJ. Given their business, there might be some other companies that should be as scared, but none that needs to be more scared.

        That’s the OFAC side of things. To the extent this is a matter of “You’re collecting for a charity, so show us authorization from that charity for you to do so” strikes me as an eminently wise general rule that is achieving a stupid result in this particular circumstance. But that has nothing to do with the American sanctions regime.

  • pianomover

    Sounds like your conversing with a bot.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I had a couple hundred dollars of paypal money frozen (ie, stolen) when I tried to log in from Cuba to transfer it to another American not in Cuba. This happened a few months after 9/11. It was a really stupid move on my part, but one lesson I took is that any money sent through paypal is only yours if they say it is.

  • Thanks guys, this is just the kind of fascinating conversation I hoped you would have, helping me see it from different angles – have missed you so much!

    So Feathers wins the prize so far for the most helpful reply to me, as I really wasn’t thinking about it this way so far (sorry Feathers WordPress won’t let me reply above):

    “You are asking them to change their policies in order to make it easier for people to steal money from Syrian refugees. Paypal is acting to protect the charity. Presumably, what she should have done is sent you the money as a birthday present and then you give that amount to the charity. There would have been no problem. Your sister flagging it as a donation, presumably for tax purposes, it what got the fraud tag put on it… Paypal has only your word that the money will be going to the charity. Which is not good enough for Paypal.”

    Fascinating, and maybe you’re right. But it sounds like what they really need then is a receipt to me from a group who has received the money. Why all this crap about a subordination letter? Does that make sense to you as a way to reduce scamming? If so how?

    • heckblazer

      The tag made them think that you were acting as an agent of the charity, so they’re asking for proof that you are a legitimate agent of the charity. That’s the script Lawrence was handed, and by gum he’s going to stick to it because he doesn’t want to get fired.

      Now in actuality you were acting as an agent for your sister, so as you note a receipt proving the money was in fact donated is what’s appropriate here. That PayPal hasn’t figured this out I’d hazard is nothing more nefarious than bureaucratic inertia.

    • Simeon

      It makes sense to me.

      The “subordination letter” would designate you as authorised by the charity to receive donations on its behalf.

      A charity might hire a third party to collect donations for them over Paypal (and then forward those donations appropriately), and they would be willing to write such a letter for that third party.

      An online scammer who says, “Send money to me, and I will donate it to this charity,” and who then keeps all the money instead of donating it would not be able to get such a letter. The charity would not write one for a scammer.

      Paypal would permit the donations to the third party in the first case, because that party would have the letter of subordination. Paypal would block donations to the scammer in the second case, because the scammer would not have the letter of subordination.

      By permitting the legitimate transactions, and blocking the scam transactions, Paypal reduces scamming.

      It seems to me that your dispute requires your sister’s intervention. You need to co-ordinate with her so that Paypal understands that her original designation of the transaction as a charitable donation was mistaken, and that the money she sent to you was, in fact, a personal gift. (It is actually you, and not her, who is making the charitable donation.)

      • heckblazer

        I wholeheartedly agree.

      • She and I both have already explained this to Paypal. It has not seemed to affect their approach to the issue, which is part of the weirdness.

        I don’t really care about my Paypal account. I’m concerned about issues of governance around humanitarian relief. The bigger issue is that LOTS of regular citizens crowdsource money for charities of all sorts in precisely this way. There is a huge category of transactions between formal subordination relationships and scamming, and what Paypal’s policy does by trying to shove people into boxes is make it harder architecturally for citizens to help raise money through the grassroots for good causes, by either penalizing the as scammers or forcing them to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of establishing a formal relationship with an NGO.

        The losers in all of this are vulnerable populations in need of assistance.

  • leftwingfox

    PayPal generally seems to be overcautious about moral grey areas in ways that enhance their own bottom line. While I don’t want to conflate sex work with charity work, you can see similarities in their customer policing policies in way Paypal treats anyone suspected of producing adult material.

    http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-04-02/the-soapbox-how-paypal-wepay-discriminate-against-the-adult-industry/

    Freezing accounts and denying customers access to funds tends to affect marginalized communities in deference to legislative communities. I believe this is a conscious decision to attempt to avoid banking standards of regulation from being applied to them.

  • efgoldman

    Very late to the thread, and IANAL, but Giant Brokerage & Mutual Fund Co LLC from which I recently retired had really, really strict OFAC policies, such that we all had to take quarterly (and repetitive) courses.
    The company’s specific policies were to err on the side of caution and refuse the transaction, then take it to your manager who would kick it to the legal/compliance department. No-one ever got fired or reprimanded for that. But if you’d bring attention to the company for screwing up? THEN you’d be in trouble.

    ETA: However there were no anonymous “Lawrences” in our company. All interactions at any level required the phone rep’s / correspondent’s / officer’s full name and position.

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