Researchers in California think they’ve found spammers’ weak point—and say it could be used to help kill off the industry. To make their discovery, the researchers spent months trying to attract all the spam they could before buying thousands of dollars worth of products advertised in those emails. In the process, they learned that just three financial companies authorized 95% of credit card transactions. If those firms stopped OKing such payments, “you’d cut off the money that supports the entire spam enterprise,” a researcher tells the New York Times.
Spam “only makes sense if you can find a way to take people’s money,” he notes. “This means credit cards”—“the only payment platform that is ubiquitously available to Western consumers and can be used for Internet commerce.” Spammers need the cooperation of banks to run the credit card transactions; if the financial companies identified in the study—which are based in Azerbaijan, Denmark, and the Caribbean island of Nevis—refused, it would cost the merchants dearly to find other banks. Meanwhile, “defenders can, in principle, identify which banks the scammers are using far faster than they can get new banks, and for basically zero cost,” the researcher adds.