The Bizarre Reason Porn Stars Are Being Blocked From Using U.S. Banks

The news: Last week Chase Bank informed hundreds of their customers, who happened to be porn stars, that their accounts will soon be closed down. It seemed odd at the time for a major banking company to pull such a move, especially since Chase has failed to provide a clear rationale.

But already Chase's anti-porn movement has a new partner: PayPal. In the last few days, several adult performers reported that their accounts have been closed down by the online payment company, with little to no explanation.

Angry former customers have taken to Twitter to cry foul against these institutions, but it may be that they had little say in the matter. New reports now indicate that another organization is actually orchestrating the mass closure of porn star accounts: the U.S. government.

What is going on? In order to understand what's happening with porn stars' bank accounts, you first have to learn about "Operation Choke Point." It sounds kinky, but it's actually a secretive effort spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Justice to shut down shady businesses, such as payday lenders and online scammers.

According to American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating, the DOJ is essentially "telling bankers to behave like policemen and judges" and shut down accounts of "high-risk" customers or businesses.

"Operation Choke Point is asking banks to identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing something government officials don't like," Keating wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (paywall). "Banks must then 'choke off' those customers' access to financial services, shutting down their accounts."

And lo and behold, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, pornography is listed under its list of businesses that are at "high risk" for fraud, alongside ammunition and firearm sales, drug paraphernalia, escort services, Ponzi schemes and even dating services.

Banks are not happy either. These companies are all legal businesses, but with "Operation Choke Point," the DOJ is shutting them down by forcing banks to deny their service. And that makes for a troubling reality: While the government is understandably concerned about shady scams, it is essentially coercing private businesses to carry out its subjective, moral agenda.

For banks, it's an unnecessary burden on their operations. Twenty-three bipartisan members of Congress have already written a letter to the DOJ to complain on behalf of these legal businesses. But for now, they have no choice but to comply. "If a bank doesn't shut down a questionable account when directed to do so, Justice slaps the institution with a penalty for wrongdoing that may or may not have happened," wrote Keating.

That means that all of a sudden, law-abiding porn stars with legitimate businesses can lose their banking service overnight. PayPal's account closures are especially inconvenient for webcam stars and other adult performers who depend on online transactions for their livelihood. But according to the U.S. government, they are no better than online scammers — and as such, do not even deserve the privilege of banking at a reputable institution.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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