Venmo addresses blocked payments

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This month I wrote about how using certain words can get your payments delayed or blocked — and how some of those words seemed to unfairly target some ethnic minorities in the U.S.

For instance, one Venmo user saw his payment held up over the use of the word “Persian” in a payment memo line. Since the piece was published, Venmo’s parent company PayPal, have taken steps to address the issue. PayPal recently released a joint statement with the National Iranian American Council.

In the statement, the company acknowledged the issues and says it has already taken steps to try and fix the problem.

An imperfect system

As I pointed out in the original story, PayPal is sort of in a tough spot here. On one side is the Office of Foreign Assets Control — the company paid a big penalty last year for not having adequate controls in place to prevent transactions going through its systems that violate U.S. sanctions, and had to agree to put in place controls to keep it from happening again.

On the other side are customers, who see innocuous payments held up or blocked by the automated screening that’s a part of those controls, sometimes in ways that appear discriminatory.

I reached out to Venmo for comment and a spokesman for the company had this to say:

At Venmo, we work hard to balance our obligation to comply with government regulations with our desire to ensure that our policies have minimal disruption to the user experience. Through user feedback, our teams are continuing to work hard to evolve our screening process, improve our algorithms and speed up our review time when payments require a review. It is not within our policy to immediately block payments, but rather we place the payment under review while we work with the user to determine if it is a true violation of government regulations. We appreciate the support of our community as we work to continually improve.

So the takeaway here: If your payments are getting delayed or blocked for reasons you find offensive or just dumb, speak up and let your financial institution know. It may just be an honest mistake that the company is willing to admit and fix.

What do you think? Have you ever had a payment delayed or blocked for a reason that made you scratch your head?

Follow me on Twitter: @claesbell.