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PayPal Thinks I'm a Terrorist

Spain
This has nothing to do with my books, or indeed any of the subjects that most of you guys are interesting in hearing about, but I feel a need to vent.

About a month ago, I discovered to my puzzlement and annoyance that my account at PayPal had been locked. I had no idea why. I've had a PayPal account for years, and never had a problem. In all that time, I was only involved in one dispute, and that was a case where I was the one filing the complaint. Besides, that was three years ago, at least. I use PayPal mainly for buying toy knights on ebay (these days, many sellers will accept only PayPal, money orders, or cashier's checks, and the latter two are just too much trouble), and for collecting payment when readers buy signed copies of my old books off my website. It's a convenient service, well worth the fees, and I've never had a problem with it.

Till now.

This turned out to be a big problem, though. My account was locked, with no explanation. I can't get into it, can't use it to pay, can't accept payments, can't access the money I have in the account. Why? I emailed PayPal's "Account Review Department," as instructed, to find out what had happened and get the account unlocked. My first two emails went unanswered. The third time proved to be the charm, and finally got me a reply. It said, in part:

"PayPal is a regulated financial services company required under law to
assess its customers against certain lists of individuals and entities
which have had sanctions imposed against them. Where a potential match is
identified, PayPal's policy is to lock the account and request further
identifying documentation. The decision to lock your account has been taken
solely by PayPal in line with its compliance policy."

This made no bloody sense to me, so I decided to phone PayPal and try and talk to an actual human being. That's not easy either, in this world we live in. I found the number, phoned, negotiated the usual infuriating Voice Mail maze of "press 1 for this, press 2 for that," and finally reached a customer "service" representative. She, of course, was no help whatsoever. She looked up my account and told me the same stuff that was in the email I'd received. In fact, I think she was reading from the email. When I asked her questions, she had no answers. So finally I asked to speak to a supervisor.

He, at least, gave me some meaningful information. Despite the hokeydoke in the letter about "the decision... has been taken solely by PayPal," the source of my trouble is actually the federal government. The reason my account was locked was because my name has turned up on a list out of the U.S. Treasury Department. Specifically, something called the "Office of Foreign Assets Control."

Why the hell I would be on this list, I have no idea. I have no "foreign assets" that I know of, aside from a long-moribund bank account in Poland from the days before the Berlin Wall went down, when the Poles could only pay you in soft zlotys that you had to go to Poland to spend. Or maybe it's because I have used PayPal to pay for toy soldiers from sellers in Germany, Australia, and the UK, or to accept payment for books from a dozen different foreign countries. Or... if you will allow me a moment of paranoia here... maybe someone in the Treasury Department didn't like some of the political views I've posted here, or my opinions about the TSA and the War on Terror.

Whatever the reason, I'm on the OFAC list, and unlike Santa's list, this one is just for the naughty, so PayPal has locked the accounts of everyone whose name appears there.

The most infuriating thing of all is that I have MONEY in that PayPal account. Money which PayPal flatly refuses to disburse to me.

"Can I close the account and withdraw my funds?" I asked them. "No," the supervisor said, "the account is locked." I accused him of stealing my funds, which he denied. They're still my funds, he insisted. It's just that they won't let me withdraw them, or use them to pay anyone, because, after all, the account is "locked." (How much you want to bet that after some period of "inactivity," they will start taking fees out of the account?) I did luck out in one respect, I suppose. At the moment, there's only about fifty bucks in that PayPal account. That hasn't always been the case. There have been times in the past when I've had as much as thousand bucks floating in my PayPal account. Believe me, if you think I'm honked off now, imagine how pissed I'd be if they were robbing me of a thousand bucks instead of fifty.

How do unlock the account? All I have to do is furnish PayPal with several different proofs of my identity. They already have a credit card number and a bank account number, mind you, but that's not sufficient, now they want copies of my passport, my birth certificate, and a utility bill.

A service like PayPal is supposed to make my life easier, to enable me to buy and sell with a click of my mouse, to spare me annoying trips to the bank to buy money orders and cashier's checks, to allow me to receive small payments from readers abroad who want signed copies of my books. CONVENIENCE is the reason I use PayPal. I don't have the time, the energy, or the inclination to jump through their hoops.

Right now I'm trying to finish A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, working on a breakdown of the contents and art required for THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE, editing the new Wild Cards book INSIDE STRAIGHT and writing my own story for same, beating out an outline for a comics project with John J. Miller, trying to stay on top of the various Ice & Fire spinoffs from Subterranean Press, Fantasy Flight Games, Testor's, DBPro, Avatar Comics, and several other licenses, dealing with the aftermath of the Byron Preiss bankruptcy auction, trying to extricate my RPG rights from the collapse of Guardians of Order, living through major home renovations. I do NOT have the time to take on PayPal and the U.S. Treasury as well.

So there you go. For the foreseeable future, my PayPal account will remain locked, I'm afraid. If you want to buy a signed book, you'll need to mail me a check or money order. And I guess I won't be bidding on nearly as many knights on ebay, since so many sellers "prefer PayPal."

If any of you are PayPal users, however, and are accustomed to allowing a significant amount of money to sit around in your account... take it out. Take it out NOW. Your name could turn up on a list as easily as mine did, and then, like me, you'll find yourself cut off from your money with no right of appeal.

I say it's spinach, and I say to hell with it.

End of rant.

Comments

( 219 comments — Leave a comment )
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donraj
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:06 am (UTC)
Wow.

All I can say is that I'm damned glad I've never gone through the trouble of figuring out how to use mine.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 7th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
SDNL
Here's the list, I didn't see his name on it:
http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sdn/t11sdn.pdf
mrbnatural
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:09 am (UTC)
o___O Good gravy! I think my head would have exploded.
dravenreborn
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:11 am (UTC)
Have I mentioned lately that I just love you to bits?

I love your rants. :D
trinora
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:14 am (UTC)
Part of me wants to say something silly like.. Some guy in gov'ment is reading your books and screams, "HE DID WHAT TO ARYA?!?!" (or insert any other character), and slapped your name down as punishment.

I hope this gets resolved; the fact anyone thinks that you're some terrorist is kind of laughable. Talented writer yes, violent zealot no.
anowyn
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:53 am (UTC)
Hahah XD
(no subject) - parhelion_spark - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
OMG - Arya? - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: OMG - Arya? - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: OMG - Arya? - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
:) - sich67 - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
trooper221
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:15 am (UTC)
Not a problem...
I just assume that since I've had a license to buy explosives since the age of 15, that I've been the subject of at least one Federal Investigation. I'm just paranoid enough to think THEY're out to get me, and intelligent enough to realize THEY're incompetent to the point of hilarity or annoyance.
numachi
Nov. 6th, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Not a problem...
The only thing saving us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency.
(Deleted comment)
seattlesparks
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:55 am (UTC)
In fairness, I'm not sure it's entirely PayPal's fault. This is part and parcel of the administration "Protecting Your Freedoms," as they'd say.

As I understand it, if PayPal didn't lock the accounts, the Federal government could do unpleasant things to them. (Fines? Jail time? Revoke their license as a financial instution? Something like that.) Which isn't to say they shouldn't make it easier for customers to at least find out what's HAPPENED and why their accounts have been locked.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:17 am (UTC)
I'm not quite ready for the revolution yet, but it may come soon.
bojojoti
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:20 am (UTC)
Good heavens, I fear for my favorite characters when you're in a good mood...
count_01
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:24 am (UTC)
Let the "in Soviet Russia" jokes begin...
In Soviet Russia, we had many pals, but no pay.

...

Nothing? Not even a groan?


But seriously, if they can't keep straight a member of the FBI and a "known associate," how can they possibly be expected to keep straight a world-reknowned author, who probably has never been employed by the US government, much less actively investigated? It's competence and on-the-ballitude like this that comforts me when I fear we tumble down a slippery slope, because at the bottom can't possibly be dictatorship. Nobody'd be able to make the trains go on time, and no way we'd be able to storm across our borders for "living space." We can't even manage to conquer a few practically unarmed, relatively small countries for a modest empire.

All the same, how sucky that you happened to be the world-reknowned author they couldn't keep straight. Of all the karmic dooky to pile up on your doorstep, this had to come along..? Well, hopefully in an alternate universe, another you is the brutal dictator of a small kimberlite-rich third-world nation, and the universe is merely balancing the score.
lucius2021
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:44 am (UTC)
Re: Let the "in Soviet Russia" jokes begin...
Waaah-waaaaaah.
jedigandalf
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:41 am (UTC)
As a Libertarian, I must say, in the most simple of terms, this is absolute bullshit. Get the hell out of my business.
gehayi
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:43 am (UTC)
Absolutely idiotic. I'm sorry that you ended up going through that.

Maybe you could file a Freedom of Information Act to find out why you ended up on this list to begin with. I hate to suggest it, as that means time spent not writing and I'm already expiring of suspense. But doing so might give you some peace of mind.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 7th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
FOIA
The Freedom of Information Act can be a useful tool. However, it seems new laws enacted by our wonderful Congress have extended the time a federal agency has to respond. For example, I was under the impression the time frame was two weeks...then an PIO for the agency said it was 20 days...and after 20 days I STILL had not received a response and it changed to however long it was before I received it. Think it was about a month and half.

The federal government is unresponsive to the constituents, and corporate agents are changing the way the government works to make sure our tax dollars continue to fund their businesses. It's almost impossible to change anything as it is, and let me tell you, it's going to get a lot worse and there's not a thing we can do about it.
lucius2021
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:44 am (UTC)
Yuck. :(
elfbabe
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:46 am (UTC)
So... PayPal locks your account because they think you're on the OFAC list. And to get it opened up, you have to prove your identity. How, exactly, is that supposed to make anything better? Presumably someone who was on the OFAC list for a really good reason would also have a birth certificate, a passport, and a utility bill.
unzim
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:46 am (UTC)
I'm in more intersting situation - they take money for verification of my card - and then tell that my information isn't right ...
They can at least thank me for stealing my money ...

But reading your post I understand that - Let it be with this verification money ... They give me a favour for not letting me IN for so small prize ... but if they let me IN - they can take much much more ...
So in some way they are good people :)

P.S. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (C) The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare
flamingophoenix
Nov. 6th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
Nah, Hamlet has to be public domain by now. No way it's copyrighted. Right?
(no subject) - unzim - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - flamingophoenix - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
riverheart
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:49 am (UTC)
This is not the first time I have seen a complaint from someone whose account on PayPal was locked, though it is the first time I've seen this reason used. Many people have apparently had their accounts locked, and I do not know of more than one who has subsequently obtained the locked-up funds.

I use PayPal as little as possible, mostly as a way to transfer funds from my bank account to someone else who doesn't necessarily have the time and/or patience to await my check. Thank you for the warning. I believe I will keep to current practices, which do not involve PayPal ever taking possession of a significant sum of my money.
anowyn
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)
There IS another George Martin - he writes about conspiracy theories and secret societies. Maybe they have you terribly confused?

Or they may have you confused with Sir George Martin, producer for the beatles or something like that?

The first George Martin I wrote of writes books like "The All Seeing Eye" and have information like so which the US government may not like. He also wrote:

British Masonic Miscellany, Volumes 1 through 5
The Cardinal Principles of Freemasonry

But then there's ANOTHER George Martin that writes about Cellular Aging and Cell Death.

I am hoping and assuming they have you terribly confused with someone else and aren't ready to admit their faults. I hope that's the case. I've known other people who get fucked over by Paypal. x_x
power_cosmic
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:52 am (UTC)
I realize that you're busy with an incredibly full plate, but perhaps you could have someone persue this matter FOR you. Having your name on that list can be an inconvenience for more than just your paypal account if you let it linger for too long.
anowyn
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:56 am (UTC)
I hope you understand this
I am the protector of this world!

I WIELD THE POWER COSMIC!!!
Re: I hope you understand this - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - malimar - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
pgmcc
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:57 am (UTC)
Good rant. Good luck in your battle against the anonymous corporation and the silent, edict issuing government agency.

You must feel like one of Kafka’s heroes in The Trial or The Castle.

You’ll probably find they have been using data mining tools on your library loans, telephone bills and shopping loyalty cards, as well as your financial transactions. The days of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report are here without the need for clairvoyants. All we need is giant number crunching electronics to identify that the behaviour of 75% of the population matches that of Ozzy Bin Liner and his merry men and that they are therefore guilty of high treason.

Isn’t it nice to know we are all guilty until we prove ourselves innocent? (And even then there is probably seventeen years of effort required to undo all the administrative damage done. – On that note have you checked that all the other financial institutions you deal with haven’t taken similar actions?)

God protect our protectors. Or do I mean, God protect us from our protectors?
lannie
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:58 am (UTC)
Thank you for the warning! I read about these kinds of things in the terms of service (and it made me go "huh? why would they do that?"), but it's a good thing to know that they actually DO this kind of thing, too. I'm sorry to hear about your problems though, hope they're sorted out soon and they get their head out of their asses. Here's to never using paypal again!!
parhelion_spark
Nov. 6th, 2006 07:59 am (UTC)
Huh. I KNEW I DIDN'T TRUST PAYPAL FOR A REASON! The fiends.
Chlamydia upon them.
lifeislikeamop
Nov. 7th, 2006 01:43 am (UTC)
(off topic)

Yay Father Ted!
kutuz_off
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:05 am (UTC)
This made no bloody sense to me, so I decided to phone PayPal and try and talk to an actual human being. That's not easy either, in this world we live in. I found the number, phoned, negotiated the usual infuriating Voice Mail maze of "press 1 for this, press 2 for that," and finally reached a customer "service" representative.

FYI, there's this site that tells you how to get to humans directly - http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/0,289893,sid9_gci1163748,00.html

For instance, this site claims PayPal 402-935-7733 Say "agent."
oconel
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:33 am (UTC)
Say "agent."

I read that and thought of "Matrix"
(no subject) - donraj - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
unovian
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:07 am (UTC)
Sometimes the US and all their lists scare me. :(
magister_
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:09 am (UTC)
About War with PayPal:

Did you tried to consult with the lawyer and to solve this less publicly?
(Mt 18:15-17)

(I think, here there should be: "Who of my friends can help ... ?"
doesanyoneknow
Nov. 6th, 2006 08:20 am (UTC)
You're far from alone.

Paypalsucks.com is a collection of various horror stories.

A friend of mine posted a link (within above website) about 2 years ago or so to a 23 minute long phone conversation with a paypal representative about keeping his money in their locked account and then the fees that added up with that for dormancy or whatever bullshit it was. It was a ridiculous affair and thusly kept me from ever getting a paypal account.

I don't have one and while it's caused some inconveniences in my life, stories like yours continue to tell me that getting a paypal account is just asking for trouble. Good thing I rarely shop over the internet.

Best of luck.
judith_s
Nov. 6th, 2006 10:09 am (UTC)
FWIW, Paypal settled a class action suit about those locked accounts. http://www.settlement4onlinepayments.com/
(no subject) - claudiag - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
PayPal? Not ever! - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Pay Pal sucks - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Fifty Bucks, eh? - (Anonymous) - . th, 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
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