We have very nice lawyers! The team over at Wilmer Hale have been very helpful to us, and it’s been nothing but a pleasant experience for us.
As is typically the case for lawyers, we need to pay them from time to time. Recently, they had helped us with a Blue Sky filing. Appropriately, while remitting payment for that service, I had written “Blue Sky” in the memo field of our online payment service with Chase.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, write “Blue Sky” in the memo field of your online payments to your lawyer.
Today, after several hours on the phone, I found out that this had caused our payment to be flagged by the Treasury Department. Apparently, “Blue Sky” has some other meaning to people who hate freedom.
Eventually, we got this message:
The payee listed below has a similar name or address to a name or address on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list of Specially Designated Nationals. As a result, based on the information we have at this time, this payee has been rejected as an eligible bill payment payee.
This is clearly not literally true, as the memo field represented neither the payee’s name nor address, but let’s assume they were speaking broadly.
As a consequence, the payment was stopped, and our lawyers were essentially flagged as an entity which we can never pay through online bill payment again. Oddly, Chase suggested we simply send paper checks as payment to them in the future. Killing trees preserves our freedoms.
This whole experience, while I guess understandable in some “everything is terrible and everyone is stupid” sense, is fairly unsettling. I share it with you in hopes that you’ll never run afoul of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is apparently a serious and terrifying institution.
In conclusion, I love my country and like our lawyers and hate our bank, like all good Americans. I just wish it were easier to do so without being stuck in an absurd and unaccountable situation with an unsatisfying resolution.
This is an interesting anecdote from Twitter about others who’ve possibly had issues with this phrase.
@anildash My kids' daycare has the words "Blue Skies" in its name; about a year ago all parents who autopay had our checks go missing.— Travis Ogdon シ (@togdon) February 21, 2014
Also, there’s a surprisingly interesting discussion on Hacker News about this post, with speculation about why this phrase may be problematic. I should be clear that I’m not criticizing the Treasury Department for imperfect solutions to a very tough challenge that they’re facing, but am sharing this story in the hopes that it helps them improve, as I assume they’re not interested in false positives, either. I also hope that Chase can develop a better process for handling these sorts of situations, as they’ll likely only become more common.
Finally, I wanted to write about this so that there’s a clear public explanation for the next time I’m coming through Customs when returning home to the United States. See? It was all just a harmless mixup.