Frequently Asked Questions

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How to Search OFAC's Sanctions Lists

82. Does OFAC have a web-based search engine for its sanctions lists?

Yes, OFAC does maintain its own web-based search service. It can be accessed by clicking here.

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246. How does Sanctions List Search work?

In addition to returning results that are exact matches (when the match threshold slider bar is set to 100%), Sanctions List Search can also provide a broader set of results using fuzzy logic. This logic uses character and string matching as well as phonetic matching. Only the name field of Sanctions List Search invokes fuzzy logic when the tool is run. The other fields on the tool use character matching logic. Please click here for more information on what a true sanctions list match is.  For more information on the slider bar, see FAQ 247.  

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247. What does the Sanctions List Search Score mean?

The score field indicates the similarity between the name entered and resulting matches on one of OFAC's sanctions lists. It is calculated using two matching logic algorithms: one based upon phonetics, and a second based upon the similarity of the characters in the two strings. The slider bar defaults to a score of 100, which indicates an exact match.  Lower scores indicate potential matches.

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248. How do I use the Minimum Name Score field and score slider bar?

The minimum name score field limits the number of names returned by the search. A value of 100 will return only names that exactly match the characters entered into the name field. A value of 50 will return all names that are deemed to be 50% similar based upon the matching logic of the search tool. By lowering the match threshold the system will return a broader result set.

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249. How is the Score calculated?

Sanctions List Search will first look for potential matches based on the first letter of  input search terms and by checking for matches at least 50% or more similar based on edit distance (edit distance is the minimum number of operations required to transform the input string of characters into the string that it is being compared to on the list). Sanctions List Search then uses two matching logic algorithms, and two matching logic techniques to calculate the score. The two algorithms are Jaro-Winkler, a string difference algorithm, and Soundex, a phonetic algorithm. The first technique involves using the Jaro-Winkler algorithm to compare the entire name string entered against full name strings of potential match entries on OFAC's sanctions lists. The second technique involves splitting the name string entered into multiple name parts (for example, John Doe would be split into two name parts). Each name part is then compared to name parts on all of OFAC's sanctions lists using the Jaro-Winkler and Soundex algorithms. The search calculates a score for each name part entered, and a composite score for all name parts entered. Sanctions List Search uses both techniques each time the search is run and returns the higher of the two scores in the Score column.

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250. Does OFAC recommend a specific match threshold score?

OFAC cannot make such a recommendation because each search has its own unique set of facts surrounding it. Users of Sanctions List Search must make their own match threshold determinations based upon their own internal risk assessments and established compliance practices.

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251. What fields influence the score?

Only the name field influences the score.

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252. What fields use fuzzy logic?

Only the name field uses the fuzzy searching logic.

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253. When conducting a search using the ID field, does Sanctions List Search account for variations in non-alphanumeric characters?

Sanctions List Search’s ID field uses exact character matching to provide users with a result. In order to receive the broadest number of results, users should conduct ID field searches both with and without any non-alphanumeric characters.

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287. Who may use Sanctions List Search? Can we configure our automated system to utilize Sanctions List Search on a continual basis?

Sanctions List Search is a free tool provided by OFAC to assist the public in complying with sanctions programs. It is intended to be used by individual users that are looking for potential matches on OFAC's sanctions lists. It should not be utilized by automated systems that are configured to continually run searches through the tool. For a copy of files that can be easily interpreted by automated systems and software programs, please see the list of XML, CSV, PIP, DEL, and FF files on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Consolidated Sanctions List pages.

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369. Does Sanctions List Search look for potential matches on all of the various sanctions lists that OFAC has published on its website?

Sanctions List Search will look for and return potential matches from the  Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Consolidated Sanctions Lists. The user can look under the List column to see which list(s) a potential match is on. Please see the Consolidated List page for more detailed information on what is included in the Consolidated List.

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467. Does the Sanctions List Search tool show historic information? For example, does it show names that have been removed from one of OFAC's sanctions lists?

OFAC's Sanctions List Search is updated frequently and always contains the latest versions of OFAC's sanctions lists. Like OFAC's other list-related publications, Sanctions List Search does not contain historical information. Names that have been removed from OFAC's Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) or Consolidated Lists are not included in Sanctions List Search. Likewise, targets that have been updated only appear with their most up to date entry information. For historical information about a target on one of OFAC's sanctions lists, please see our archive page.

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892. What is the difference between the previous version of Sanctions List Search, and the upgraded version made live to the public on January 25, 2021?

OFAC’s Sanctions List Search application has been available to the public since 2011. Over the years the tool’s userbase grew to a point where the original infrastructure and design for the application could not keep up with demand.  In late 2020, OFAC took steps to increase the tool’s efficiency to improve its performance.  

The primary update was the addition of a new algorithm to the tool’s fuzzy logic search functionality.  The upgraded application still utilizes the original Soundex and Jaro-Winkler algorithms in addition to the new algorithm (see this link for more information on the upgrade).  As a result of this update, users may see differences in search results when compared to an earlier version of the tool.  If users had previously tested Sanctions List Search in order to determine how the tool could assist in their due diligence, it is recommended that such testing be repeated on the current version of the tool. OFAC may continue to periodically update and/or make changes to the tool.  While OFAC has no immediate plans to further upgrade the application’s fuzzy logic functionality users should watch OFAC’s website for information about future upgrades. As such, users are to advised that they are using a free service at their own risk, and that best practice dictates each user performs baseline checks to see how updates/changes to the tool may affect search results.

For more information regarding how the tool works and calculates scores, please refer to FAQs 246, 247 and 249.  For more information on who may use the tool, please see FAQ 287.

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