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Western Union Blocking Money Transfers to Arabs 904

Posted by timothy
from the no-get-the-even-broader-brush dept.
lowrydr310 writes "Western Union is blocking money transfers to people with Arab names. They have delayed or blocked thousands of cash deliveries on suspicion of terrorist connections simply because senders or recipients have names like Mohammed or Ahmed. 'In one example, an Indian driver here said Western Union prevented him from sending $120 to a friend at home last month because the recipient's name was Mohammed.' Western union claims they are merely following U.S. Treasury Department guidelines that scrutinize cash flows for terrorist links. I agree that Western Union shouldn't allow anyone supporting terrorism to use their service, however I'm fairly certain there are millions of people named Mohammed or Ahmed who aren't terrorists. I wonder if any other financial companies such as banks are doing the same thing."
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Western Union Blocking Money Transfers to Arabs

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  • Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom (715771) * <[ten.00mrebu] [ta] [todhsals]> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:51PM (#15667946) Homepage Journal
    Remember, folks, racism is A-OK if it's trying to prevent terrorism or 419 scams.

    </sarcasm>
    • Re:Racism (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FooGoo (98336)
      Not all muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are muslims. Well atleast the current crop.
      • Re:Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pluther (647209) <pluther.usa@net> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:09PM (#15668171) Homepage
        Actually, most terrorists in the United States have been white Christians.

        If by the "current crop" you mean the "terrorists" who are fighting against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, yeah, those are mostly Arab and Muslim, but there's a good reason for that.

        If you mean the terrorists on TV and in movies, then, yeah, I'll grant you that. Almost exclusively Muslim these days.

      • Re:Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FurryFeet (562847) <joudanx@yaho o . c om> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @03:43PM (#15669879)
        You know, I thought quoting Ann Coulter [wikiquote.org] would be the most pathetic thing ever. But I was wrong. The most pathetic thing on the world is tryin to pass of an Ann Coulter quote as yours.

        It's like, evil and stupidity PLUS plagiarism. I don't know how much lower you can get (but I'd guess not much).
    • Re:Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrxak (727974)
      Think of it this way, if the terrorist watch list had a whole lot of John Smiths on it, then every John Smith in the world would have the same problem. It's a problem with repetative names, not necessarily racism. Obviously there needs to be a better system, but what kind of system would work?
      • Re:Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by eln (21727) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:13PM (#15668209) Homepage
        Maybe a system where you gather a little more information about suspected terrorists other than their name before throwing them on some sort of list that prevents anyone with that name from doing all sorts of normal tasks.

        It seems like instead of gathering actual evidence of a crime or a conspiracy to commit a crime, we are now just rounding people up that seem suspicious (or have the same name as someone who seems suspicious). This is not only lazy, but also ineffective, since out of all of the pieces of information that can be used to identify a person, his name is probably the one that's most easily falsified. So, instead of doing some actual police work and gathering some actual evidence against an actual person, we decide to cast a wide net, and end up catching a lot of innocent people while actually decreasing our chances of catching the actual bad guy. Great plan there.
        • Re:Racism (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TheSpoom (715771) * <[ten.00mrebu] [ta] [todhsals]> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:25PM (#15668335) Homepage Journal
          My thoughts exactly. This plan is infringing on the freedom of people who have not committed (or who have even been accused of) a crime.

          Perhaps the people involved in this should actually do their job and investigate rather than simply assuming Arab == terrorist.
        • Re:Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

          >This is not only lazy, but also ineffective
          >...
          >catching a lot of innocent people while actually decreasing our chances of catching the actual bad guy

          Ineffective?

          There's an old cowboy joke about the cowboy who was target shooting and landed far from the bullseye. Everyone hooted at him for missing. He said "Don't be a-sayin' that, 'lessn ya know what I was aimin' at".

          Occam tells me this is probably bureaucratic blindness at work along with a dose of "Don't just stand there, do something stupid!".
      • Re:Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:29PM (#15668377)
        Obviously there needs to be a better system, but what kind of system would work?

        What makes you think that ANY system could work?

        Some beauraucrat comes up with a lame-ass policy that, by the way, goes against the grain of everything America claims to stand for and even the people smart enough to realize it is a lame-ass policy are still brainwashed into believing that it is somehow necessary?

        Here is a system that would work - don't waste my tax dollars on useless anti-american shit. Spend it on emergency services instead.

        No matter how many tax dollars you throw at the problem, terrorism is a tactic that can not be fully countered. So instead of fucking with people - 99.999% of whom have nothing to do with terrorism - spend it on the infrastructure that minimizes the damage. Better hospitals, better fire departments, better "first responder" teams. That way, we get the benefit of the money spent regardless of if a terrorist blows up a building or an earthquake knocks it down.
        • Re:Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

          So instead of fucking with people - 99.999% of whom have nothing to do with terrorism - spend it on the infrastructure that minimizes the damage.

          It makes the country stronger instead of turning it into a state of panic, that simple fact alone counters terrorism better then any amount of military action and senseless monitoring and checking will ever do.
        • Re:Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Aron S-T (3012)
          Basically the poster is arguing that we need to increase the public health infrastructure. This is an excellent idea not only because it is a more effective tool at "countering terrorism" but it will be more effective for society overall, because it will reduce the number of deaths from real public health threats which kill far more people than terrorists.

          What I find so absolutely infuriating is that the same political party (and its dumbass supporters) that has been fighting to destroy the public health sy
    • by aplusjimages (939458) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @02:14PM (#15668833) Journal
      Remember after the Oklahoma City bombing how hard it was for a white person to rent a Ryder truck or any type of moving truck? I had to go rent moving trucks for my white friends because they were getting spit on and turned away.
  • Mohammed eh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lecithin (745575) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:54PM (#15667965)
    "Western Union prevented him from sending $120 to a friend at home last month because the recipient's name was Mohammed"

    Not true. They prevented him from sending the cash because his name was Sahir Mohammed. A bit of a difference.

    Perhaps a Sahir Mohammed has some links to 'bad guys'?

    Well, it happens here in the US too. There are plenty of stories regading people being put on the 'do not fly' list due to circumstances like this as well.

    • Re:Mohammed eh? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gid13 (620803)
      The phrasing in the article implies that you're wrong:

      "In one example, an Indian driver here said Western Union prevented him from sending $120 to a friend at home last month because the recipient's name was Mohammed."
    • Re:Mohammed eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:04PM (#15668102)

      Well, it happens here in the US too. There are plenty of stories regading people being put on the 'do not fly' list due to circumstances like this as well.

      My personal favorite was Jonathan Linden, better known as Johnny Rotten from the popular punk band, the "Sex Pistols." He was detained because "Linden" is phonetically similar to "Ladin." When you have so many absurd false positives as identifying a British punk rocker as a potential arabic criminal mastermind, the noise is certainly enough to hide real positives. Anyone with any faith in these efforts to stop "terrorism" as anything more than scare tactics designed to win votes, is a moron.

    • Doesn't look like it (Score:3, Interesting)

      by grahamsz (150076)
      No Mohamed Sahirs on the SDN list
      http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sd n/sdnlist.txt [ustreas.gov]

      Lots of Sahirs and Mohameds but i dont see that combination.
    • Well, it happens here in the US too. There are plenty of stories regading people being put on the 'do not fly' list due to circumstances like this as well.

      I'd say with a fairly high degree of certainty that any system capable of producing so many false positives, is pretty much worthless. But then, this is the US government, and I'm sure they know exactly what they're doing.
  • Has it come to this? Why not just take anyone that "looks like a terrorist" and shuffle them off to camps, like we unfortunately did with thousands of Asian Americans in WWII? I know they're just a company, but it is alarming to see any action that just blankly denies access to their systems based on something as generic as a name. It's not like blocking all Adolf Hitler's either, there are TONS of people named Mohammed, it is a very common name. I had two of them in my grade school classes, both exact
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I had two of them in my grade school classes, both exact same name of Mohammed Ali.
      When those two got in playground fights, did they float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee?
  • by cashman73 (855518) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:54PM (#15667981) Journal
    with the name of, "Muhammed Ali," you might have a problem here,... Never mind the fact that you've got a major building in the U.S. [alicenter.org] dedicated to the cause of peace,...
  • Cryptome (Score:4, Informative)

    by Robber Baron (112304) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:55PM (#15667988) Homepage
    Cryptome had a related article...

    http://cryptome.org/western-union.htm [cryptome.org]
  • by Kelson (129150) * on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:55PM (#15667992) Homepage Journal
    The statistics may have changed, but I remember one of those trick/trivia questions from when I was younger (in the 1980s): What's the most common name in the world?

    It turned out it was, if you include all the variations, Mohammed. Throw in Mahmet, Makhmoud, Mahmoud, and various other spellings and transliterations.

    Somehow, I doubt a large enough percentage of them are liekly to be terrorists for the name to be worth checking.
  • sad times.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tont0r (868535)
    Welcome to American during WWII.

    Hooray for typecasting. :(
  • by DirtyFly (765689)
    Thats another case of ridiculous procedures, One of the most ridicule stuff I found on WU was that when using the persons description when making a MO the form omits (to be politicaly correct im sure) the persons skin color. Cmon one of the MOST obvious diferences on fisionomy is skin color, please quit the politicly correctnesses.
  • They do (Score:5, Informative)

    by mapkinase (958129) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:56PM (#15668013) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if any other financial companies such as banks are doing the same thing.


    From here [adc.org]:

    Without explanation, Fleet sent letters to five Muslim customers in November 2002 indicating the bank was closing their accounts, the two groups that waged the campaign said Wednesday.
  • This is idiotic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln (21727) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @12:56PM (#15668016) Homepage
    This sort of heavy-handed behavior in the name of "the War on Terror" just reinforces the idea that this is not just a war on terrorism, but a war between cultures, a holy crusade. This is the sort of rhetoric that these terrorist organizations use to recruit new members, it hardly does us any good to give them evidence to support their case that the West is conducting an all-out war on Islam.

    The more we marginalize Arabs (and sometimes people that just look sort of Arab) and Muslims, the more likely they are to align themselves with terrorist organizations out of desperation or righteous indignation. We need to fight terrorist cells based on real intelligence, not knee-jerk reactions.
  • With this US administration's beliefs and attitudes towards this sort of thing I fully believe this is happening. Ahmed sending 50 bucks to Utah shouldn't matter. Bubba from Georgia sending thousands or more to a middle eastern country should. And the block shouldn't happen unless it's a very large amount of money for smaller amounts the transaction deserves a closer look by someone in black sunglasses.
    • Re:I believe it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:04PM (#15668106)
      What does the US administration have anything to do with on this? Apparantly this is Western Union Policy right?? Western Union might be using a list provided by the government, but I don't think that the US has a law against this. Also, with ID theft being mor eprevelent plus the fact that there CAN be many people with the same NAME! There was a Mohammed Atta who was a Terrorist and I BET there's another Mohammed Atta somewhere elsse on the planet. Also restricting a transfer because of a name won't stop the terrorists. They'll just use Paypal.
    • Re:I believe it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:18PM (#15668269) Journal
      The 7/7 attacks in the UK cost less than £3000 to plan and execute. Do you really think that it's possible to track that little money effectively? Someone could take it from a cash register at the end of a day. The group that organised it could, between them, have withdrawn the money from cash machines in one day without raising any alarms.
  • Local goverments are receiving countless requests from those of Arab descent for name changes to Smith, Jones, Jackson, Bush, etc.
  • Doesn't suprise me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ColourlessGreenIdeas (711076) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:00PM (#15668058)
    I know of a charity that works with (mostly christian) organisations in the west bank. Their usual way of getting money to their partners is to fly into Israel with a big bundle of money. Otherwise it tends to get massively delayed by US banks.
  • However (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mononoke (88668) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:02PM (#15668085) Homepage Journal
    They'll be glad to send money for you to someone with a nice Anglo name, such as Timothy McVeigh.
  • by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:03PM (#15668090) Journal

    From the summary:

    I agree that Western Union shouldn't allow anyone supporting terrorism to use their service, . . .

    But aggressive war waged on civilians is the worst form of terrorism, and anyone who votes for pro-war Republicans or pro-war Democrats is actively supporting this terrorism. That includes the great majority of those who vote in the U.S.

    Therefore, for Western Union to stop supporting terrorism, it would effectively have to stop doing business in the U.S.

    • You need to get out more. Your phobias are controlling your perception. Pretty soon, little George Bush's will be climbing out of your kitchen drawers with knives, seeking to slash your quilts and behead your stuffed animals. Little Bush gnomes will be prancing gaily through your lawn, pawing and raping the snapdragons.

      Repeat after me: Terrorism is when you fly planes into skyscrapers, not when you allow free elections. Turn off your television and use your mind. That's why it is there.
  • So if I wanted to help out my childhood friend from New York who has the last name 'Ahmad' I'm out of luck.

    Well, considering his dad has been an airline pilot fo years, they've probably moved since he was released after 9/11 for security measures.
  • by MECC (8478) * on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:11PM (#15668185)
    I wonder if they'll block transfers from arab sounding names to George Bush (not senior). Hate to stop all that Saudi cash headed to republican pockets.
  • FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by bwcarty (660606) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:12PM (#15668203)
    I work for a division of a large financial firm, and we are required to download a list of Specially Designated Nationals [ustreas.gov] from the Treasury Department and compare names from it against new accounts and transfers. The list includes lists of suspected terrorists, and they're not all Arabic (think Irish Republican Army).

    • Re:FUD (Score:5, Informative)

      by rhsanborn (773855) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:36PM (#15668462)
      Bingo. They aren't blocking people because they have some generic Arab name. They are blocking people who have names that match the Federal list of suspected terrorists. As someone mentioned above, something like Sahir Mohammed. Probably a perfect match for the list.

      We too have to run periodic checks against the names in that database. If a match comes up, we have people individually check other information to confirm that it is an actual match (e.g. same name, different birthday).

      We have open accounts with these people though, so we have a significant amount of time to deal with these. Western Union has a very short period of time because it is a one time transaction that happens relatively quickly.
  • by RexRhino (769423) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:12PM (#15668208)
    This is the U.S. government's fault. The U.S. government and the U.S. Treasury department create a whole bunch of "anti-terrorism" rules with some pretty extreme penalties for non-compliance. Western Union is simply complying with a bunch of bad regulations.

    The real problem is that people don't understand that there will be lots of unintended consequences to any legislation or regulations. ALL regulation or legislation hurts innocent people to some extent. People love to scream for laws and regulation to solve all the worlds problems, without ever dreaming that the laws or regulations can cause more harm than good. People have absolute faith in laws to do what they are intended and only what they are intended.

    That, and people think it is the government's job to protect them from every single possible thing that can harm them (from terrorists, or iTunes DRM, or corn sweeteners, or whatever people are making hysterical calls for legislation on). In this case, the cost of having a free society where people aren't profiled by race or religion, is that it might be easier for a terrorist to attack the U.S. If you are one of those people screaming for the government to do more to stop terrorism, you are responsible for this. If you are one of the people crying "Bush didn't do enough to stop 9/11 and terrorism", then you especially guilty of supporting racial profiling (even if you claim not to support it), because how the hell else is anyone supposed to stop a crime BEFORE IT HAPPENS unless they are profiling potential criminals?

    Western Union is just the innocent victim of the laws and policies that you most likely support!
  • by karlandtanya (601084) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:18PM (#15668264)
    Terror is fear caused by the perception of danger.
    The solution is, of course, the perception of security.

    The crippling effect of terror is that people are afraid to do things they normally would if they did not perceive a danger.
    Actual protection from the hazard (if there was an actual hazard) would not necessarily remove the perception of danger.
    Citizen 1: I'm stayin' home. There's terrorists out there.
    Citizen 2: Have you seen one?
    Citizen 1: Nope, but nobody's doing anything about it. I'm not leaving the house till this is over!

    To combat the terror, we present the appearance of security measures. Going overboard and causing outrage is just part of the salesmanship.
    Citizen 1: A real terrorist would never get through--they're bustin' guys just for lookin' like terrorists!
    Citizen 2: Woohoo--we whupped them terists good. Let's go down to the Winn-Dixie. We're out of beer!
    C1 & C2 hop in the car and immediately put it in the ditch because they're hammered. But they were wearing seatbelts, so they're OK!
  • Windmill jousting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:50PM (#15668605)
    Just another "we do something against the terror" bubble. Nothing else. As if that would change anything.

    So you're not allowing WU to transfer to Mohammeds? Great. Next thing you know we'll get some sons of terrorists named Billy-Bob and the transfer is made to them instead. With the dad, as their custodian, cashing in. "Problem" solved.

    Window dressing for the naked emperor, I'd call it.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @01:54PM (#15668656) Homepage Journal
    1. al-Qaeda receives more than 90 percent - even today - of its funding directly or indirectly from Saudi Arabian citizens.

    2. Most people using Western Union with Arab names are not from Saudi Arabia.

    3. Requiring a Passport of someone wiring money with an Arab name, and just checking to see if they're citizens of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Egypt would work much more effectively.

    4. Fake passports and name changes are easy to buy, usually costing less than $25 on downtown streets of any major port city (or even Detroit, Michigan).

    5. Fake patriotism, like concern for non-existent flag-burning rampages, is very easy to do, and highly ineffective.
  • Worse than useless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quantaman (517394) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @02:33PM (#15669035)
    From what I can gather from the article this policy is actually harming security.

    They say Treasury guidelines are sending more people to informal money transfer networks called "hundis" or "hawalas" that have been used by gangsters and terrorists because they circumvent such scrutiny.

    "Sending money by hawala is cheaper and it does not get checked by banks, so it is quicker," said a Pakistani taxi driver who called himself Munir Ahmed. "They say it is not legal, but it is a reliable alternative to Western Union."


    If law abiding people are avoiding official institutions what makes them think that terrorists are stupid enough to use them?!?

    More than that by driving additional people to the hawalas it circumvents existing security measures. For starters it means that more money (even the legit stuff) is moving around and they have no idea where it went, also the additional people using the hawalas will mean they are more developed for the terrorists use them. Additionally when you uncover a hawala network it will be that much harder to pick out the terrorists since you've added all these false positives, and finally for the terrorists who would have used official institutions in the past since it was easy and the hawalas weren't developed, now you no longer have a money trail you can inspect later on.

    All this security measure does is inconvenience and alientate a whole bunch of people while making the world a little less safe.
  • The unspoken point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cervantes (612861) on Thursday July 06, 2006 @07:45PM (#15671856) Journal
    The unspoken point is much more disturbing. They aren't just holding the transaction for a few hours and letting it sit there. They're holding the transaction, calling or notifying a government agency, and saying "Mohammed Everyman is sending $500 to some guy names Jimmy James, is it ok?" and then waiting for the government to check it out and get back to them.

    Helloooooo, data mining.

    Seriously, what an absolute load of shit. How can you people stand for this? Because it's foreigners??
    I say the EU passes a new law, requiring banks and transfer institutions to hold and check all activities by guys named "Bob" and "Mike". But it's ok, it's for security purposes.

    You know what? I could rant all day, but there's a much better way to express myself:

    *boggle*

    *bangs head on desk*

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