If Visa and MasterCard took steps to block certain credit card transactions with three foreign banks, you could hit spammers in their wallets and drive a lot of them out of business. At least that’s the conclusion of a study by a team of computer scientists from two University of California campuses.
These researchers, who coined their study of email spam as “spamalytics,” conducted a three-month study. The mission of the study was to receive as many spam emails as they possibly could during the three months. As the spam email messages started rolling in, not only did they open them but they also took it a step further and clicked on the link or links that the emails contained. If the link led to a product to purchase, the item was purchased. Nearly a billion messages were opened and 120 purchases made.
The scientists were hoping to find a way to figure out at what point they could eliminate spam emails altogether.
The results of the study may astonish you. It turns out that 95% of the transactions for the purchase of drugs and herbal remedies marketed through spam email blasts were processed by the same three banks — all located outside the U.S. where these merchants had banking relationships. This means that if credit card companies, such as Visa and Mastercard, refused to handle the transactions of these three foreign banks, those hated email messages could potentially be eliminated.
Merchants have to work with a bank in order to process credit card transactions. Banks have the right to refuse to work with a merchant if they feel the merchant is questionable or the product they are selling is illegal or shady. Because the scientists conducting this study were able to identify the three banks willing to handle these merchant transactions, the potential to shut down these operations just took a giant step forward.
According to the New York Times, Visa refused to comment. But Steve Kirsch, chief executive of anti-spam company Abaca Technology, was quoted in the Times saying, “if the credit card companies wanted to shut down the spammers, we could easily aid them in rapidly and unambiguously identifying the merchant accounts used by spammers.”