Terrorist list can confuse customers
SAN FRANCISCO ” Businesses checking customers’ names against a Treasury Department terrorist watch list sometimes deny services to innocent people, according to a report released Tuesday by civil rights lawyers.
The 250-page list, posted publicly on a Treasury Department Web site, is being used by credit bureaus, health insurers and car dealerships, as well as employers and landlords, according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The list includes some of the world’s most common names, such as Gonzalez, Lopez, Ali, Hussein, Abdul, Lucas and Gibson, and companies are often unsure how to root out mismatches. Some turn consumers away rather than risk penalties of up to $10 million and 30 years in prison for doing business with someone on the list, the group said.
The 6,000-plus names on the list, managed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, include people, companies or groups accused of supporting or financing terrorism. Most are foreigners. Their assets may be frozen by U.S. banks, and Americans are forbidden from doing business with them.
“We have found that an increasing number of everyday consumers are being flagged as potential terrorists by private businesses merely because they have a name that’s similar to someone on this government watch list,” said the report’s author, Shirin Sinnar, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus.
The caucus said it hoped its report would encourage Congress to hold hearings and restore accountability and oversight.
The Treasury Department is doing what it can to clarify the rules, spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said in a statement. That includes posting guidelines and a tutorial for businesses and hosting workshops nationwide.
One California couple, Tom and Nanci Kubbany, were denied a loan to buy a home when his credit report came back with an alert saying his middle name, Hassan, was an alias for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.
“It’s so surreal, I still can’t believe it now,” said Kubbany, a Kmart cashier of Syrian descent. “It was devastating for my wife. She worried and worried and worried.”
The couple missed out on buying the house they wanted, but nearly a year later are again working to secure a loan.
The screening may be legitimate in some cases, the lawyers acknowledged, but they encouraged greater government regulation to prevent ensnaring those who simply share a name with a listed individual.
Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control: http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area: http://www.lccr.com/