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Children's Credit Card Confusions

Children's Credit Card Confusions

August 24, 2001
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" It is not possible to determine whether a card number is being used by a minor. "

One of the foundations of "responsible" Adult Webmastering is obtaining some form of Age Verification before allowing access to sexually explicit material. Traditionally, this has involved the use of a valid credit card to prove the bearer's age. While Congress has acknowledged this as a an acceptable mechanism, the credit card companies themselves, as well as a number of major processors, are saying flat out - "it just ain't so!" How does this affect you? Read on:

Children's Credit Cards
I read a post at one of the Webmaster message boards the other day concerning iBill's statement that credit cards are not a form of Age Verification: "iBill does not recognize the use of a credit card as proof of age. There are numerous minors that hold credit cards in their own right, and the authorization process does not provide a means to determine a person's age. This being the case, it is not possible to determine whether a card number is being used by a minor."

This post reminded me of another one that I had read a while ago at YNOT Master's. It was from Jim Morrison of VIP-ID, and his post concerned the termination of his merchant account. Rather than a typical "pissing on the boards" post, it was a thought provoking piece - especially when you consider that VIP-ID is an Adult Verification Service (AVS), and you learn the reasons why their merchant account was closed: As stated in Jim's post, Card Services International (CSI) informed him that according to VISA USA:

"There are numerous minors that hold Visa cards in their own right and that the authorization process does not provide a means to determine a person's age. This being the case, it is not possible to determine whether a card number is being used by a minor.

Since a card can not be used to determine age, we have concluded that the concept of Age Verification is not accurate, is misleading, and may create a false sense of security. For these reasons, Visa has determined that permitting an Age Verification process is not in the best interests of Visa Members."

Now Jim's post went on about seizure of funds, fines to be levied, and the measures he will take against this onslaught. A difficult situation and I wish him well. But I couldn't shake the feeling that this was not good news for the industry as a whole. Especially when I noticed the similarity of the wording, and realized that Visa was obviously the source for both companies' new stances. The result of this is now that an anticipated crackdown on adult sites seems imminent, perhaps Webmasters should not take too much comfort in being able to say "I got a valid credit card number, that proves they're adults!"

The Confusion
You see, as I understand it, Age Verification Services (AVS) are an accepted method under COPA of limiting a minor's access to potentially harmful material through the vehicle of a credit card transaction. The same "protection" was also extended to pay sites.

If the cardholder is underage, a parent or guardian had to "sign" for the card (since minors are unable to enter into legal contracts), and in doing so they acknowledge responsibility for its use and charges. This implies parental supervision of the card's use, and so no minors should be using credit cards to access adult entertainment.

The whole AVS industry is built upon this concept, and it is also the thinking behind most pay site's age verification strategy. To have a monopolistic entity declare that "...permitting an Age Verification process is not in the best interests of Visa..." despite an established legislative standard doesn't bode well. There are options of course, but without VISA, many revenue streams would be curtailed. It is part of a coordinated and continuing effort to accomplish social change...

This is not an isolated case with an isolated vendor; it is part of a coordinated and continuing effort to accomplish social change in the marketplace in the wake of past legislative failures. The handgun industry will tell you all about how it works:

Think I'm crazy? The next time you see that MasterCard commercial on TV saying that you're not responsible for "mysterious Internet charges" - remember, it makes a great incentive to tell your wife "I NEVER!" when the bill comes... How many "I Never!" credit card charge disputes can YOUR company handle? ~ Stephen


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