Here's Why PayPal and Venmo Allow You to Pay Someone for 'Cocaine' But Not 'Iran'

Cuba, Syria, ISIS and North Korea were also among the list of words and phrases that PayPal and Venmo reportedly flagged

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PayPal and Venmo users should be mindful of the words they use in the description of their transactions, according to a new report by Slate Magazine.

The outlet recently found that there are certain words and phrases that get flagged by PayPal and its subsidiary Venmo, causing a hold on the payments while the companies review the transactions.

Words and phrases such as “Iran,” “North Korea,” “Kim Jong-un”, “Cuba”, “ISIS”, “Persian”, “Syria”, “Cubano sandwich” and “Al-Qaeda” were all reportedly flagged by PayPal, while “cocaine”, “human trafficking,” “bomb,” “assassination,” “kidnapping,” “terrorist,” “fake ID” and “Iraq” were among some of the ones that were not.

In a statement to PEOPLE, PayPal spokesperson Kim Eichorn says the company takes “its regulatory and compliance obligations seriously, including U.S. economic and trade sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).”

“Our goal is to deliver as seamless of a payments experience as possible while we do our job in making sure payments made on our platforms comply with applicable law,” Eichorn adds. “We realize any delay in making or receiving a payment can be frustrating, and we appreciate our customers’ patience as we comply with our regulatory obligations.”

Venmo. Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Slate first looked into the issue after Jewish Currents magazine tweeted on Wednesday that they had sent nine paychecks to their contributors about a story on Iran via PayPal.

However, after sending the payments, the magazine learned that one of them was being held and reviewed by the company because the transaction description included the term “Iran.”

In the notice that Jewish Currents received, PayPal requested that the sender explain why they were referencing the term “Iran” in the description and provide the purpose of the payment.

PayPal and Venmo, along with other U.S. payment processors, make these occasional holds because they are required to comply with the government’s OFAC sanctions.

In the event that certain payments seem as though they may violate U.S. sanction laws or government criteria, they will be placed under review.

Once it is determined that nothing in the payment indicates it may violate the law, the transaction will be processed.

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Jewish Currents publisher Jacob Plitman told Slate that the payment in question eventually went through, but the eight others that followed were still under review as of Thursday.

However, Eichorn notes on Friday to PEOPLE that those e-checks were not held and simply “take longer for the bank funding to process.”

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