We are an open-minded bunch when it comes to content. We’ve seen it all over the past 13 years, including the kind of content which can raise the ire of the card brands and result in significant, non-compliance assessments and/or account termination for egregious violations.
One of our responsibilities as a biller is to scrutinize content on the websites where we process, because inappropriate content can lead to serious consequences with the card brands. Even not having enough content can be a problem — not because it leads to fines, but because it can be a predictor of chargebacks. For example, a $25 price for a membership with a very limited number of videos is a chargeback waiting to happen.
Merchants need to be aware that affiliate partners also need to be compliant. If a marketing partner is using prohibited content to push traffic to your site, both you and your payment processor can be fined based on the actions of that marketing partner.
Both Visa and MasterCard have programs which address content: MasterCard’s Business Risk Assessment and Mitigation (BRAM) program and Visa’s Global Brand Protection Program (GBPP). The card brands use third party content scan providers such as G2 and Webshield to monitor website content. All adult URLs are registered with both card brands, and they have teams that investigate URLs that have been brought to their attention. We’ve been told that most of the offending websites are reported via anonymous leads.
The card brands are fairly well aligned on what constitutes a brand violation, namely anything which may pose significant fraud, regulatory or legal risk or may cause reputational damage. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Illegal sale of prescription drugs and/or tobacco products
- Illegal internet gambling / miscoded gambling
- Child exploitation
- Offensive adult pornography
- Sale of counterfeit merchandise
- Sale of goods or services in violation of intellectual property rights
- Sale of certain types of drugs or chemicals (synthetic drugs, salvia divinorum, etc.)
- Coerced Transactions
- Hate crimes
- Non-consensual mutilation of a person or body part
- Counterfeit or copyright infringing merchandise
This is where things get interesting, because these examples are just that, examples. They are open to interpretation. Take something seemingly harmless like a set involving hypnosis. Everyone is over 18, all documentation is in order, model releases are signed, this is a studio production. The model is performing his or her part and completely “under the control” of their hypnotizer, then they have sex. Well, that actual scenario was considered a violation and resulted in a significant non-compliance penalty because the model wasn’t deemed able to provide consent for the sexual act. Hard to believe, right? But it happened, and similar views are taken towards content involving models who are asleep, drunk, or under the influence of drugs. If the card brands find such content on your site you could be in for a big surprise. Thankfully, Segpay has seen all of this and can help keep you compliant.
Every client on-boarded with us goes through a thorough initial site review, with subsequent monthly content scans performed by a company authorized by the card brands. If violations are found, we contact the merchant and, typically, resolve any issues quickly. We then scan the URLs monthly to make sure no new problematic content has been added to the website. Most acquiring banks will scan their portfolio as well. And not all acquires have the same content rules. While all banks follow the Visa/MasterCard rules, some will add content categories they are not comfortable with. For instance, some acquires consider BDSM too extreme. The card brands also have a list of all the sites you process and can check them whenever they want. If you are thinking of withholding certain sites from them, that’s a violation, too.
The card brands understand that content issues happen from time to time and if we show we are utilizing the proper tools to stay compliant, they will often provide some relief on fines. And those fines can be hefty; we’ve seen them as high as $250,000. Merchants need to be aware that affiliate partners also need to be compliant. If a marketing partner is using prohibited content to push traffic to your site, both you and your payment processor can be fined based on the actions of that marketing partner.
Knowledge and experience are power. We are able to identify most content issues up front, and have them remedied. Staying on top of the monthly alerts also allows us to address new content that could be problematic and helps mitigate fines should the card brands find something before we do. We are here for merchants when they are not sure about certain content. The card brands have made significant improvements in terms of responding to inquiries, as well, so if you’re not sure about something, just ask. Rest assured you can build your reputation on ours.
It took only three years for Cathy Beardsley to turn startup Segpay into a profitable company. As president and CEO, Beardsley oversees the day-to-day operations and long-term strategic planning for the company. Segpay is one of four companies approved by Visa USA to operate as a high-risk internet payment service provider in the U.S. Since 2005, Segpay has offered online merchants a state-of-the-art billing platform that provides realtime payment processing around the globe.