Archie McPhee, sellers of curios, realized that any PayPal transaction containing the word "tardigrade" — that being the name of the adorable tiny space-surviving creatures they sell ornaments of — would be blocked.
"We've contacted them and they told us we should just stop using the word tardigrade," Archie McPhee wrote on Twitter. "We changed the name (and everything else on the page) of our Tardigrade Ornament to Water Bear Ornament because we had just sent out an email, but this is a terrible solution."
PayPal's response was brief, referring to its security system and offering little guidance beyond not using the word. It made clear that using it breaks the PayPal user agreement, and that it is not a case of the Scunthorpe Problem, where bad code sees a bad word in an innocent series of letters. The word
"tardigrade", explicitly, will be rejected.
"Every transaction that goes through our system, is reviewed by our internal security system. Certain words can trigger our security system. Unfortunately, this cannot be overridden. I would advise you to change the wording on your website to prevent this from happening," wrote PayPal.
The mystery remains open, officially, but Vice's Samantha Cole identified what is surely the culprit: a foreign company named "Tardigrade Limited" is on a sanctions list over arms sales. The Office of Foreign Assets Control has a search engine that returns the word as an entry, and the company crops up in this U.S. Treasury Department shit list.
"In 2015, PayPal was ordered to pay $7.7 million for 486 OFAC sanctions violations over several years," Cole writes.