February 6, 2004 I wrote a blog post about spam. My hypothesis was you don’t go after spam by filtering email. You go after spam by stopping credit card transactions!
It seemed reasonable at the time though as you’ve probably noticed spam continues and is still supported by credit card purchases!
Flash forward seven and a half years. Today’s New York Times carries this headline: Study Sees Way to Win Spam Fight. Guess what scientists have found?
It turned out that 95 percent of the credit card transactions for the spam-advertised drugs and herbal remedies they bought were handled by just three financial companies — one based in Azerbaijan, one in Denmark and one in Nevis, in the West Indies.
The researchers looked at nearly a billion messages and spent several thousand dollars on about 120 purchases. No single purchase was more than $277.
If a handful of companies like these refused to authorize online credit card payments to the merchants, “you’d cut off the money that supports the entire spam enterprise,” said one of the scientists, Stefan Savage of the University of California, San Diego, who worked with colleagues at San Diego and Berkeley and at the International Computer Science Institute.
It makes you wonder, do the credit card companies really want to stop this? If they wanted to they could.