Venmo Placing Hold on Some Payments Referring to Palestinians

The popular payment app Venmo is placing a hold on some payments that refer to Palestinians, and some users have taken to social media to share the matter as the violent conflict between Israel and Palestinians continues.

A screenshot of an inquiry from Venmo's customer support was shared by one Twitter user who received a $50 donation they said they collected for "Emergency Palestinian Relief Fund." A Venmo representative said the platform is trying to understand the reference to "Palestinian Relief Fund."

"Anyone want to guess why @Venmo is asking for a detailed description of the purpose of payment for a donation I collected from a friend named 'Palestinian Relief Fund'?" Twitter user @princessmlokhia addressed by Venmo as "Blake" wrote with the screenshot. "Can we not even provide for our besieged people without being accused of terrorist support?"

Anyone want to guess why @Venmo is asking for a detailed description of the purpose of payment for a donation I collected from a friend named "Palestinian Relief Fund"? Can we not even provide for our besieged people without being accused of terrorist support? pic.twitter.com/yo5x39Amba

— disorientalist (@princessmlokhia) May 17, 2021

The PayPal-owned company asked the user the purpose of their payment and for details of the user's "fundraising efforts," "how the funds will get to the beneficiaries," and "the names and websites of any charitable organizations," that the individual was collecting for.

Another user shared a similar message from Venmo when trying to send a $50 payment titled "Palestine Relief Fund." The person wrote on Twitter that the company put the payment "in review beyond the typical 48 hr period for sending money for a Palestine relief fund. What part of relief fund is unclear..."

@Venmo literally put my shit in review beyond the typical 48 hr period for sending money for a Palestine relief fund. What part of relief fund is unclear.............. pic.twitter.com/SkREe5Njbm

— Gulu (@guluboolin) May 14, 2021

A Venmo spokeswoman told Newsweek that the halting of payments is to comply with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

"Venmo takes its regulatory and compliance obligations seriously, including adherence to U.S. economic and trade sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control," spokeswoman Juliet Niczewicz said, referring to a Venmo blog related to OFAC compliance.

If a certain payment violates OFAC regulations, the company pauses the payment for further review and notifies the user. There is a review period of up to 72 hours, during which users will be updated on the status of their payment.

The OFAC's sanctions list includes entities such as Palestinian Relief Fund, the Palestinian Relief Society and the Relief and Development Fund for Palestine.

The list facilitates the use of the OFAC's Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list or SDN list. It also includes the militant group Hamas and Hamas TV.

"OFAC administers and enforces U.S. economic and trade sanctions programs against targeted foreign governments, individuals, groups and entities," a Treasury spokesperson told Newsweek.

To enforce the sanctions, the OFAC publishes its list of "companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries," the spokesperson said. The OFAC also "lists individuals, groups and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers, designated under programs that are not country-specific."

This is not the first time Venmo has put a pause on payments with keywords related to entities under OFAC sanctions.

In 2019, Venmo flagged payments that included "Persian" or other terms related to Iran, which is on the OFAC sanctions list, Newsweek previously reported.

One user attempted to pay a friend for a restaurant bill at a Persian restaurant, and Venmo temporarily halted her payment titled "Persian shinanaganz."

"Your identity needs to be flagged. It creates a dent in your heart," the Venmo user, Monna Sabouri, previously told Newsweek.

There are Persian related entities on the OFAC's sanctions list such as Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry.

"OFAC strongly encourages companies and organizations to employ a risk-based approach to sanctions compliance and to utilize these lists as part of that approach," the Treasury spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added, "Financial institutions and others make screening choices based on their own circumstances and compliance approach." The spokesperson said the OFAC does not require companies to use specific terms in their screening.

Speaking about halted payments related to Palestinians, Niczewicz said, "We strive to balance these obligations with the urgency of our users desire to send humanitarian aid. We understand the importance of these transactions and apologize for any delay that may occur as we work to quickly process payments in compliance with applicable law."

"Paypal, Venmo, or Cash Only" Sign
An online payment or cash-only sign with a QR code is displayed on a table at the Beauty Bar in New York City's East Village on December 12, 2020. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images