PayPal suspended a British user’s account for allegedly violating US sanctions against Iran after they purchased a Persian rug-style mousepad that was made in England.
A Cambridge resident told the Guardian on Thursday that the US-based payment processing company had informed them they were potentially “violating international sanctions” by buying an English-made novelty rug on the handmade crafts store Etsy.
“My account was suspended and, in an email, which mistook me for the seller, it informed me I was advertising PayPal as a method of payment for items that may originate from Iran,” the user claimed, adding that the company also warned them the account would be “terminated” unless they could provide evidence showing that the mousepad was made outside of Iran.
Though the United Kingdom does not prohibit its citizens from buying products from Iran following the lifting of United Nations (UN) sanctions in 2016, the US does, having imposed strict sanctions against the country under former President Donald Trump
in 2018. As a US company, PayPal consequently does not allow its users to make transactions with those in Iran.
After the Guardian contacted PayPal for comment, it reinstated the user’s account and apologized, declaring, “We don’t always get it right.”
However, this is far from the first time that PayPal has halted a transaction or suspended an account over a suspicion that the user is trading with sanctioned states.
Slate explained last year that the company “uses a system that automatically flags keywords in the payment memo field that could indicate a violation of US sanctions.” Unfortunately, simple words like ‘Iran’, ‘Cuba’, or even ‘Persian’ are enough to set off alarms and cause a user’s account to be suspended.
Other words that can cause a transaction to be flagged by PayPal include ‘North Korea’, ‘Syria’, ‘Kim Jong-un’, ‘Bashar al-Assad’, ‘Syrian refugee’, and ‘Cubano sandwich’.
Last year, Jewish Currents had its payments to nine magazine contributors suspended after detailing that the money was for an “Iran piece,” while in 2015 PayPal suspended a London-based Iranian human rights organization’s account, citing international sanctions.