Meng Calls on Treasury Department to Publish Guidance on Flagged Money Transactions
Jul 30, 2020
Congresswoman’s correspondence would help clarify for consumers why their transactions were flagged, what information may be kept, and who has access to such personally identifiable information
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations that has oversight of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC), announced today that she sent a follow up letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin regarding OFAC’s guidelines for money transfer companies to investigate suspicious money transactions.
This letter, and the one preceding it, was inspired by an incident in which the Venmo account of an advocate in New York City, Shahana Hanif, was flagged for sending a transfer with a description identifying the restaurant she ate at as “Al Aqsa Restaurant.”
Meng’s letter urges OFAC to create a FAQ for users of money transfer companies whose accounts have been flagged and then cleared explaining what to expect if their accounts are investigated and adjudicated. The FAQ would explain:
Why someone’s account might be flagged;
If it is flagged what, if any, personal information is kept by OFAC after that transaction has been cleared; and
Which agencies or companies can use or access such information after a transaction has been adjudicated.
“Millions of people use money transfer applications like Venmo, PayPal, or the Cash App to reimburse others for shared expenses, like a shared meal, rent, or utilities,” said Congresswoman Meng. “But Muslim Americans, as well as other immigrants and people of color, face additional scrutiny for their transactions which creates an unnecessary cloud of fear and suspicion. Simply writing the name of a restaurant can be grounds to be flagged. I find this deeply harmful and that is why I have been working to resolve this issue since last year. For those whose accounts are investigated and cleared, they deserve to have the peace of mind to know whether the U.S. Government has retained their information, as well as clarification that this flag will not negatively affect their credit score, immigration status or ability to travel. I’m thankful that Secretary Mnuchin has been a willing partner on this issue and I hope he will encourage OFAC to issue guidance expeditiously to give consumers clarity surrounding OFAC’s guidance for investigating suspicious money transactions.”
“My experience with Venmo’s blocked transaction is not an isolated incident,” said Shahana Hanif. “Many users, including some of my Arab and Muslim friends, have also had transactions flagged without a reason but blatantly discriminatory. Data surveillance is yet another harmful form of surveillance and is deeply damaging. How Venmo’s filtering works is unknown to the everyday user like me. What data is stored as a result of this blocked transaction is also unknown to me. I’m calling on Venmo to end their discriminatory data surveillance and for the Treasury to be transparent about their regulations.”
On December 27, 2019, Meng wrote to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin inquiring information from OFAC on what it requires money transfer companies to investigate and what happens to personally identifiable information after cases are investigated and closed.
On March 11, 2020, Meng pressed Treasury Secretary Mnuchin at a House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations hearing on what personally identifiable information is retained and used by OFAC, and what opportunities exist for OFAC to partner with companies like Venmo to protect people’s privacy.
A copy of Meng’s most recent correspondence can be viewed here.