Western Union dismisses racial profiling

Money transfer specialist will continue to rely on US Treasury lists as the basis of its strategy to control suspicious money transfers.

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By  David Ingham Published  February 12, 2002

Western Union, the international money transfer specialist, says that it will definitely not get involved in racial profiling as it reinforces measures to control suspicious money transfers in the wake of September 11. William Thomas, Western Union president, says that WU has always been rigid in enforcing anti-money laundering measures, but that identifying certain people as suspicious based on their race or appearance will never be part of its strategy.

“Our agents are not instructed to pay attention to name or appearance but they are instructed to pay attention to suspicious activity,” Thomas told ITP.net. “Now, in the UAE we’re required to file suspicious activity reports. But that is not based on the nature of a person’s name or the way they look.”

Instead, the global money transfer specialist will continue to check every transaction made against US Treasury lists of suspected money launderers and criminals. Principally, Western Union uses a list provided by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), a division of the US Treasury Department that monitors the overseas activities of US companies.

The OFAC list provides names of several thousand individuals that US companies abroad are forbidden from doing business with. “If a transfer comes in and a name comes close to any of these, it’s immediately pulled out for further evaluation,” explained Thomas.

Both parties to the money transfer are asked to provide further information on who they are. A decision is made within 24 hours on whether a transaction can continue or whether the matter should be turned over to authorities for further investigation. 99.9% of transactions are cleared, according to Thomas.

Western Union also confirmed that it is not lobbying the US government to let it deal with Iraq and Iran, in the way it is currently allowed to deal with Cuba. Under a special dispensation, nationals of Cuba, another state considered a pariah by Washington, can send limited amounts of money to their homeland.

There is no prospect, however, of a similar arrangement for Iranian and Iraqi nationals working abroad. “Will we be prepared to do business when [Iran and Iraq] open up someday? Yes we will,” said Milind Shirke, regional marketing director for Western Union. “[However], we respect the restrictions that are placed upon us.”

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