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Questions about Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs)

  1. What is an SDN?

    As part of its enforcement efforts, OFAC publishes a list of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific. Collectively, such individuals and companies are called “Specially Designated Nationals” or “SDNs.” Their assets are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

  2. How do I get a copy of this list?

    The best way to get the list is from OFAC’s website. The list is disseminated in a number of different formats, including fixed field/delimited files that can be integrated into databases.

  3. How often is the SDN list updated?

    The SDN list is frequently updated. There is no predetermined timetable, but rather names are added or removed as necessary and appropriate.

  4. What do I do if I have a match to the SDN list?

    If you have checked a name manually or by using software and find a match, you should do a little more research. Is it an exact name match, or very close? Is your customer located in the same general area as the SDN? If not, it may be a “false hit.” If there are many similarities, contact OFAC’s “hotline” at 1-800-540-6322 for verification. If your “hit” concerns an in-process wire transfer, you may prefer to e-mail your question to OFAC. Unless a transaction involves an exact match, it is recommended that you contact OFAC Compliance before actually blocking assets.

  5. What are weak aliases (AKAs)?

    A “weak AKA” is a term for a relatively broad or generic alias that may generate a large volume of false hits. Weak AKAs include nicknames, noms-de-guerre, and unusually common acronyms. OFAC includes these AKAs because, based on information available to it, the sanctions targets refer to themselves, or are referred to, by these names. As a result, these AKAs may be useful for identification purposes, particularly in confirming a possible “hit” or “match” triggered by other identifier information. Realizing, however, the large number of false hits that these names may generate, OFAC qualitatively distinguishes them from other AKAs by designating them as weak. OFAC has instituted procedures that attempt to make this qualitative review of aliases as objective as possible. Before issuing this updated guidance, OFAC conducted a review of all aliases on the SDN list. Each SDN alias was run through a computer program that evaluated the potential of an alias to produce false positives in an automated screening environment. Names were evaluated using the following criteria:

    • Character length (shorter strings were assumed to be less effective in a screening environment than longer strings);
    • The presence of numbers in an alias (digits 0-9);
    • The presence of common words that are generally considered to constitute a nickname (example: Ahmed the Tall);
    • References in the alias to geographic locations (example: Ahmed the Sudanese);
    • The presence of very common prefixes in a name where the prefix was one of only two strings in a name (example: Mr. Smith).

    Aliases that met one or more of the above criteria were flagged for human review. OFAC subject matter experts then reviewed each of the automated recommendations and made final decisions on the flagging of each alias.

    OFAC intends to use these procedures to evaluate all new aliases introduced to the SDN list.

  6. Am I required to screen for weak aliases (AKAs)?

    OFAC’s regulations do not explicitly require any specific screening regime. Financial institutions and others must make screening choices based on their circumstances and compliance approach. As a general matter, though, OFAC does not expect that persons will screen for weak AKAs, but expects that such AKAs may be used to help determine whether a “hit” arising from other information is accurate.

  7. Will I be penalized for processing an unauthorized transaction involving a weak alias (AKA)?

    A person who processes an unauthorized transaction involving an SDN has violated U.S. law and may be subject to an enforcement action. Generally speaking, however, if (i) the only sanctions reference in the transaction is a weak AKA, (ii) the person involved in the processing had no other reason to know that the transaction involved an SDN or was otherwise in violation of U.S. law, and (iii) the person maintains a rigorous risk-based compliance program, OFAC will not issue a civil penalty against an individual or entity for processing such a transaction.

For more information, please check OFAC’s Website