Financial institutions blacklist Muslims

Financial institutions blacklist Muslims

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today expressed deep concern over continuing reports that financial institutions have been canceling the accounts of American Muslims without cause based on what they believe to be provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

CAIR says those same institutions, including American Express, HSBC, Fleet Bank, and Western Union, are also making unreasonable requests for private information about Muslim account-holders.

In most cases, Muslims were asked to provide large amounts of documentation without cause, and regardless of credit history. Requests included tax and banking information, financial statements, residency documentation, and proof of identity.

Officials with the institutions canceling Muslim accounts cited random selection and reports from credit agencies, even when individuals had impeccable credit. An HSBC representative told one Muslim account-holder: “We are collecting this information to comply with the USA Patriot Act, and this is a bank-wide project reaching to all customers.” A spokesperson for the American Banking Association explained to CAIR that the cancellations are standard procedure in attempts to block money going to terrorists or terrorist groups.

Banks and financial institutions check names against a 103-page list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Individuals (SDN), provided by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Many victims of account cancellations are apparently singled out because their names are similar to those that appear on the list. Other unofficial and inaccurate lists have also been used for the same purpose.

“This is just another indication that the USA Patriot Act is being misused to infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans, particularly American Muslims,” said CAIR Legal Adviser Khurram Wahid. “A system must be set up to allow those who are unfairly targeted to clear their names and continue making financial transactions.”

Wahid said this issue came to light in January when Muhammad Ali of Brooklyn, N.Y., contacted CAIR after he attempted to send $80 to relatives in Connecticut from a Western Union site in Brooklyn. After returning home, the African-American customer says he received a call from Western Union’s main office demanding that, because of his name, he must provide photo identification and state his country of birth, otherwise the funds would not be delivered. When the customer protested that policy and requested a refund, he was told that the funds would not be returned unless he met the company’s demands.

Western Union officials cooperated with CAIR and attempted to negotiate a solution to the problem of misidentification, but the lack of regulatory guidance from the Department of Treasury prevented the company from making any changes to its policy.

On a related issue, CAIR recently applauded a new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policy that grants relief to airline passengers who are prevented from flying because their names are similar to those of terror suspects on a “No-Fly List.”


1. Contact CAIR if you have been subjected to any unwarranted cancellations, transactional delays or requests for information by American Express, HSBC, Fleet Bank, Western Union, or any other financial institution. E-mail, call 202-488-8787 or fax 202-488-0833.

2. See if you may become a potential target for account cancellation. Look at the OFAC-SDN list to see if your name may be similar to a name on the list.