A man on TikTok claimed his bank account were frozen by the FBI after sending a Venmo to his friend with the memo “ISIS recruiting funds.”
The TikTok shows a video of a man, Joshua McGinnis, with text over his head.
“Sending a Venmo to my friend in college labeled ‘ISIS recruiting funds,’” the text says. “Getting my bank account and other financial assets frozen by the FBI.”
The video has over 350,000 views and nearly 40,000 likes. It’s very possible Venmo flagged his account. Venmo has often disabled accounts for a memo line. In March 2021, a journalist had cash held by Venmo for using the word “Syria” in the memo line, despite being a working journalist in Syria. In January 2020, Jewish Currents said paychecks for journalists were being held by PayPal because the memo’s had “Iran” in them.
Venmo and PayPal have been known to block or review payments containing Arabic words and countries the U.S. is antagonistic with, like Cuba, Iran, and Syria. Both Venmo and PayPal claim they’re abiding by U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations. A 2020 study by Slate found that while payments with the words “Cuban sandwich” and “Damascus steel” were flagged for review, payments with “KKK,” “hitman,” or “bomb” were not.
But whether this report was actually passed along to the FBI is dubious. McGinnis did not provide any documentation his assets were seized.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, McGinnis said he sent the payment during his freshman year of college and the memo was a joke. The payment was flagged, and the McGinnis said a woman called him and “asked what it was about” and told him that “wasn’t something to be joked about.”
McGinnis said the woman did not identify herself or say what agency or company she worked for. He said his payments and bank accounts were suspended for a couple hours until he got it sorted out, but then things were back to normal.
Still, other TikTok users in the comments detailed their own experiences with the payment service.
“’Bribes for Algerian border guards’ was what got flagged for me,” one user wrote.
“I put ‘For the release of the Iranian hostages in the basement’ under my rent payment and had to explain to venmo customer service that it was a joke,” another said.
“one time I put long live Cuba bc I was paying dues for the Cuban American student association and I couldn’t use venmo for a few weeks,” another said.
Other users pointed to this experience as a reason to not use the app.
“This along with them being able to shut down your account without returning the money is why I NEVER joke on Venmo. I keep it to one emoji lol,” one user said.