SAN FRANCISCO – Businesses checking customers' names against a Treasury Department terrorist watch list are sometimes denying services to innocent people, according to a report released Tuesday by civil rights lawyers.
The 250-page list, posted publicly on a Treasury Department Web site, is being used by credit bureaus, health insurers and car dealerships, as well as employers and landlords, according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The list includes some of the world's most common names, such as Gonzalez, Lopez, Ali, Hussein, Abdul, Lucas and Gibson, and companies are often unsure how to root out mismatches. Some turn consumers away rather than risk penalties of up to $10 million and 30 years in prison for doing business with someone on the list, the group said.
"Much of (this screening) is overbroad and unnecessary, and increasingly denies Americans services, livelihoods, and their good name based on opaque determinations and administrative fiat," the report said.
One California couple, Tom and Nanci Kubbany, were denied a loan to buy a home when his credit report came back with an alert saying his middle name, Hassan, was an alias for one of Saddam Hussein's sons.
In another case, a Sacramento man could only collect money wired to him through Western Union after providing his ID, Social Security number and place of birth, because his first and middle names, Mohammed Ali, were on the list, the report said.
The screening may be legitimate in some cases, the lawyers acknowledged, but they encouraged greater government regulation to prevent ensnaring those who simply share a name with a listed individual.
Calls and e-mail messages seeking comment from the Treasury Department were not immediately returned Tuesday.