I'm Daniel. I'm in my late twenties, and I am a high school teacher in a largely multicultural area of Sydney, Australia. I teach a variety of students from many different backgrounds around the world, and I celebrate multiculturalism in all of its forms.
I, like many others around the world, watch the tragedy unfolding with the Syrian Refugee Crisis and feel saddened. I also felt utterly helpless on the other side of the world. These people genuinely require our help, but what can we as single human beings do? How can we assist these people while trying to convince governments to increase their refugee intake?
A colleague of mine told me about how her best friend needed to send money to her family back home in Syria to try and help them pay for food and water. These may be 'basic commodities' to you and I, but they become luxuries and skyrocket in price during such a crisis. Furthermore, she was describing the hardship of those who decided to try and stay behind in their village and those who had no choice but to stay.
I did not need to hear anything else. I immediately asked how I could assist with this village. My colleague set up a PayPal transfer account, and we drummed up charitable interest from people in the local community via Facebook and other Social Media to assist with this direct way to benefit refugees. I logged onto my PayPal, made my $25 donation, and that was that. I knew that $25 wasn't going to change the world, or even change the lives of these refugees in need, but every dollar counts and it would contribute towards something!
Two weeks later, and I am casually booking accommodation for a trip to Taipei. As I log onto my PayPal account to pay the owing balance, I receive an email saying, 'Your account has been limited. You may have purchased goods which are prohibited by the Australian Government'.
I immediately fall into a panic. Someone hacked my account. What have they bought? Should I cancel my cards!?
My second thought was, is this email a hoax? I log into the main PayPal page. Nope, it is legitimate! Finally, I thought, is this from the new Data Retention laws?
Once I had calmed down, I phoned the Customer Service Line for PayPal. I selected my prompting options, and was then connected through to a man with an American accent.
"I can see that your account is limited here…let me just check your details for one moment. It is blocked because you made a suspicious purchase '4SYRIA' for terrorism." (when making my purchase, I put the reference as '4SYRIA' for my credit card statement for my financial records).
I wish to state at this point that I do believe terrorism can be a threat, and I am against ALL forms of terrorism (whether is be Al Qaeda, ISIS, the IRA…). I am aware that there is a real extremist issue in Syria, and that some measures need to be taken to ensure safety.
I initially let his words roll around in my head like a 'DENTAL PLAAAAN/Lisa needs braces' Lisa Simpson montage moment. '4SYRIA' for terrorism. Your account has been limited. Suspicious purchase. '4SYRIA' for terrorism. Your Account has been limited. Suspicious purchase.
"No", I replied. "This was a charitable donation for Refugees".
He then made a statement which immediately made my skin crawl. In his politest, cheesiest, 'I'm-providing-you-with-customer-service-in-a-condescending-way', kind of tone.
"We have reason for it to be suspicious, Jihadist."
You know that whole life lesson of 'think before you speak'? I think this operator was absent the day that was supposed to be inherently taught to him. Did he just call me a terrorist?
I immediately flew off the handle. It was on like Donkey Kong. How dare you make xenophobic assumptions!? How dare you believe all Muslims are terrorists!? How dare you restrict my account without consulting me first on what the purchase is about!? Realising his horrendous error and stupidity, the operator began back pedaling and stuttering. "N-n-n-n-no, Sir. We are not calling you a terrorist. W-w-w-w-we just think Syria is suspicious.' He then falsely claimed he sent me a warning email a week prior asking for documentation of the payment. This was never received. He then confirmed my email address and said he would send it again. Again, this was never received.
It took getting the call centre supervisor to intervene to calm me down enough to rationally try and resolve the situation. The supervisor asked me to send her a direct email explaining the circumstances of the payment and that my account restrictions would be lifted within 72 hours. This has not occurred, and the situation has not been resolved, but it is a situation that really made me think about a few things:
1)Would a real life terrorist really be STUPID enough to type 'Syria' in their reference if they were really trying to fund ISIS? Really? Really really?
2)Clearly PayPal's company policies of screening processing payments are just as xenophobic, racist and assumption making as their inadequate call centre operators. If they weren't, they could have contacted me to clear up the query before automatically assuming the account needed to be restricted.
3)How many people does this happen to? Can I ever be charitable again!?
4)PayPal has a MONOPOLY on the purchase of goods and services online, because they really are a simple, easy and secure way to pay for things online.As a result they can treat their customers any damn way they please. Spoiler alert; they treat you horrendously.
So I guess I'm breaking up with PayPal for now. I'll use my credit card and cash in hand from now on when I'm feeling charitable and feel that somebody needs support.
And if I ever return to using PayPal, the next time I make a charitable donation I'll list it on my credit card statement as '4ICECREAM' instead.