Are you on the no-buy list?

The OFAC list

KAI RYSSDAL: You've heard of the no-fly list. The one used by airlines and airport security to keep suspected terrorists from flying with the rest of us. A new report out today focuses on the no-buy list. It's a government document meant to keep terrorists from buying stuff here in the U.S.

But businesses using that list are denying services to innocent people. And Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio, there's not much they can do about it.


JANET BABIN: OK, consider this scenario: you've got a good job, make enough money, but for some reason no one will tell you about, 10 lending institutions have refused to give you a mortgage.

That's what happened to Tom Kubbany. He finally figured out that all the banks thought he was a terrorist.

TOM KUBBANY: I went and got my paperwork, and it showed my middle name was an alias for the son of Saddam Hussein.

His middle name was a partial match with one that showed up on the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC list. It's supposed to identify suspected terrorists that companies can't sell to.

But a new report from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights documents a dozen cases of innocent people refused services because of incorrect matches with this list.

Shirin Sinnar wrote the report. She says businesses use the list without any government standards for training or civil rights compliance.

SHIRIN SINNAR: People are being told that as a result of having a particular ethnic name, they're not able to do business with someone.

The OFAC list has been around for years. But an executive order signed by President Bush post-9/11 expanded its use.

Attorney Michael Froomkin at the University of Miami says businesses could be in big trouble if they don't use it.

MICHAEL FROOMKIN: They want to play by the rules. But when these rules were introduced, I don't think anybody was thinking more than the banking system.

While the list is available online, there's no process in place to get off of it. The Lawyers Committee wants safeguards put in place that will protect innocent people from ending up on the list.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...