Pro Tip: Don’t include “ISIS Beer Funds!!!” in your Venmo memo

Bradley Wint
Apr 9, 2017 10:15pm AST
Photo: Jericho/Wikipedia

If you’re sending funds to your friends via an app like PayPal or Venmo, it’s never a good idea to include terrorist related content in the description, as Ben Gaurino found out the hard way.

He sent his friend $42 via Venmo to repay his friend for some beers, and included “ISIS beer funds!!!” in the description as a joke. Seconds later, he got an email from Venmo asking him to clarify what his payment was about.

On 02/21/16, you sent a payment for the amount of $42.00 for, “ISIS beer funds!!!” We’re trying to understand:

  • your reference to “ISIS.”
  • the purpose of this payment, including a detailed explanation of what you intended to pay for and the establishment/location, if applicable.

It seems that Ben’s transaction was automatically flagged for including a phrase linked to a terrorist-based organization.

In an attempt to release his funds, rather than fessing’ up by explaining his little joke, he responded in the most hipster-like way possible, sealing his faith of never seeing his funds again (eh, maybe not).

Hello,

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The note, in full, read ‘ISIS beer funds!!!’ when more accurately it could be described as ‘it is beer funds!!!’ The $42 was payment to a dear friend for two pitchers of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, minus his serving plus tip to the waitress, at the Slaughtered Lamb Pub (a much friendlier establishment than the name would suggest!) in a somewhat “hip” part of New York City’s West Village. Thank you for your query, and if you have any further questions, it is possible to reach me at this e-mail address.

Kind regards,
Ben

The folks at Venmo obviously didn’t believe it and decided to put a block on the funds. As with any financial institutions, Venmo (parent company PayPal) is governed by some kind of anti-terrorist laws. In this case, they are mandated to review financial transactions that they think may be linked to terrorist organizations.

The US Treasury Department has a unit called the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) dedicated to preventing US funds from being transferred to their global enemies. They even have an extremely extensive list of blacklisted organizations, and in this case, Ben’s transaction was flagged for containing the phrase “ISIS”. Duh.

As Ben’s initial explanation did not convince the customer agent to release the transaction, they now have to manually review it to determine whether it’s really linked to the terror organization.

Once a transaction is flagged for manual review, they have 72 hours to determine whether the funds are indeed linked to a blacklisted organization on OFAC’s list. If they do find a link, the funds will be frozen beyond that time period, while the matter is escalated to OFAC themselves. The sender will also not be refunded as a result.

If no link is found, then the transaction will be released.

The transaction in question will most likely be released, but it’s always a good idea to not be as stupid as Ben and include a phrase like “ISIS” or “Bin Laden” in your payment details, whether it’s on Venmo or any other payment app.

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