PayPal has locked up money in my PayPal account for over a month, and they are not giving it back. All because I made the mistake of using the word “Syrian” in a PayPal transaction.
On December 15th my daughter came home and said that her class was raising money to support a Syrian refugee family resettling in Victoria. We sent the notice out to the people you usually hit up for these kind of kid classroom fundraising activities – our family, a few of who live out of town.
Last day of classes for school for Christmas break was December 18th, and my daughter needed to have all the money into the school by then. To expedite the process of getting their money to us quickly, I decided to set up a donation form on a private page on my blog and have family members send me the money & I would write a cheque to the school to make sure we met the deadline. On the form, I needed to have a description line for the PayPal transaction. I used the phrase “Maggie’s Syrian Fundraiser” (Maggie is my daughters name). Her aunt, 2 uncles, & grandfather made donations.
On Dec 17th I received the following notice from PayPal:
Dear Clint Lalonde,
As part of our security measures, we regularly screen activity in the PayPal system. During a recent screening, we noticed an issue regarding your account.
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 in their use of PayPal.
To ensure that activity and transactions comply with current regulations, PayPal is requesting that you provide the following information via email to ComplianceTransactions@paypal.
1. Purpose of payment ********* made to you on December 16, 2015 in the amount of $50.00 CAD, including a complete and detailed explanation of the goods or services you are providing. Please also explain the transaction message: “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.”
2. Please specify the Syrian Fundraiser will provide aid to the country of Syria, or if it will benefit those living outside of the country of Syria.
Please go to our Resolution Center to provide this information. To find the Resolution Center, log in to your account and click the Resolution Center subtab. Click Resolve under the Action column and follow the instructions.
If we don’t hear from you by January 01, 2016, we will limit what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.
We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Ok. So, obviously using the word “Syrian” raised a red flag. On December 18th, I emailed them my explanation.
My 11 year old daughter is doing a fundraiser at her school to help with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees in our city, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Recently, our federal government committed to accepting and resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees, and there are local fundraising efforts to help support refugee families resettling here in Victoria.
When we began fundraising, a few of our family members asked if there was a way to donate online. I have been a long time PayPal user so I told people to send me a PayPal payment and I would send the money on to the school. I created a PayPal button and stuck it on my personal blog. As of this morning, you should see 4 transactions in my PayPal account from our family members related to my daughters school fundraiser. These are from *****, *****, ***** and *****.
Specifically, to answer you questions.
1) “Maggie Syrian Fundraiser.” Maggie is my daughters name. The school is collecting money to donate to the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee society to assist with the local resettlement of Syrian refugees here in Victoria.
2) The money does not go to Syria. It stays in Victoria BC and will be used by our local Victoria immigrant and Refugee centre to support the local resettlement of refugees from Syria in Victoria BC.
I hope this response helps to explain the transactions. There may be one or 2 more coming thru this weekend from another aunt and grandfather, but I don’t anticipate many more transactions.
For good measure, I uploaded a copy of the letter to their dispute resolution center on the PayPal site, just to make sure that they had a copy on their files and that my response didn’t get buried in some spam folder at PayPal, like the notices from PayPal usually do :).
I figured the explanation would clear things up.
PayPal denied 2 of the transactions and tagged 2 others with “pending review”. My account was restricted, and when I went in to try to figure out what to do to unrestrict the account, I was given no options.
On December 26th, I called PayPal and asked them why there were still 2 pending transactions in my account, why was there a restriction on my account, and what did I need to do beyond what they asked me to do to get these issues both cleared (credit PayPal – you CAN actually speak to a live person). I was put on hold. When the rep came back he said, “well, you have done what has needed to be done. I can’t see why this restriction is still in place and these transactions are still pending.” The call ended with him saying the restrictions and payments would be lifted in 72 hours.
January 4th. Still no resolution. I get a call from MacLeans Magazine after a reporter there spied a tweet of mine expressing my frustration with PayPal. He tells me I am not alone, and that other fundraising projects related to Syria have been blocked or rejected by PayPal. He writes an article in MacLeans about the problems many of us are having with PayPal.
January 10th I send an email to Compliance.
There are still 2 payments in my PayPal account that have been marked as “Pending” since December 17, 2015.
Could you please advise me of whether those payments will be cancelled or approved?
Either way, i would like to get this money out of the Pending limbo that it is in with you guys, and have no idea how to do that as I have received no further instructions as to what to do to clear up my account.
I believe I have sent you all the information you have asked for and, in a phone call I made to PayPal support on December 26, 2015, I was led to believe that this issue was cleared up and the holds would be removed from my account. That was over 2 weeks ago, and the 2 payments are still being held as “Pending” with you.
Can you please advise me if you need more information from me, or else release or deny these payments asap?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
January 18th – second call to PayPal. Again told that everything looked fine on their end and that the payments and restrictions would be lifted within 72 hours.
January 21 – It has been 72 hours. Payments still pending. Account still restricted. I call back. I am told that my issue is sitting in a back log with compliance because “it is tax season” and that they will get to it in 72 hours.
Excuse me if I sound skeptical.
This is where we are today.
What a gong show.
I’d like to tie this back into something wider – about some social commentary about how a big corporation reliant on data decision making has lost the ability to decipher well-intentioned actions from legitimate threats. I mean, hell, If I was going to launder money for some sort of subversive Syrian terrorist organization, the first thing I would do to hide my tracks is put the word “Syrian” in the description of a financial transaction. I mean, being a money laundering international terrorist does not mean that I can forgo keeping well detailed and accurate books.
And part of me also wants to ruminate on what this might mean for me in the future. Not only what being flagged in PayPal for suspicious activity, but even writing this blog post and using the word “Syrian” in it as many times as I have has likely got me onto who knows what list.
What if I try to cross the border? Will this silly screw-up somehow get me moved to the special room? I *think* I am being facetious with this line thinking, but in my head I am both laughing at the ridiculousness of this, and feeling the chill of unease as a little part of me wonders, have I triggered something bigger? Have I now been added by some smart/dumb algorithm to a no-fly list based on some stupid PayPal flag? I mean, someone getting accidentally added to “the special list” through no real fault of their own…that doesn’t happen in real life, does it?
Update: January 25, 2016. It is Monday, the day PayPal told me that my account would be fixed. Well, my account is still restricted and PayPal has not released the payments pending in my account.