Information on Merchant Accounts,
Ecommerce and Credit Card Processing

July 3rd, 2009 by Jamie Estep goes down

Filed in: Industry News | 10 comments

Authnet suffered an outage this morning. Current rumors suggest that it was due to a fire at a data-center, which subsequently destroyed the backup generators from the sprinklers. is currently the largest payment gateway in the world. This is affecting millions of websites right now. To my knowledge this is the first major outage since the DDOS attack they suffered several years ago.

A casualty of this magnitude has the ability to permanently damage / destroy this company’s trust and reputation.

May 22nd, 2009 by Jamie Estep

PA-DSS, and you thought PCI was a mess!

Filed in: Fraud, Industry News, Merchant Accounts, My Favorite Posts | 24 comments

PA-DSS, is a security standard set for payment application developers, outlining security and auditing procedures for electronic payment applications. Software that falls under the PA-DSS envelope could include anything from a POS system to online shopping cart software. PA-DSS requires that a program be audited by a 3rd party and pass a series of security test and adhere to best-practices before it can be distributed. If it is not audited or fails any part of the audit, it cannot be used as a payment application.

Phase V – July 1, 2010
Phase V mandates the use of payment applications that support PCI OSS compliance, requiring acquirers, merchants and agents to use only those payment applications that can be validated as PA-DSS compliant.

If you process credit card online and this doesn’t scare you, it should!


Put this into perspective. There are currently millions of websites using paid and open source software for their online stores. Software like Oscommerce, Zen Cart, Magento, and others have millions of users. There are only 2, online store software packages that are PA-DSS compliant. If there is not a mass-movement to get software PA-DSS compliant in the next year, almost every single online store will be out of compliance and subject to fines, or being shut down. This is only a small part of the problem. There’s still thousands of retail businesses using older payment software and the cost of upgrading would be in the millions, assuming it’s even possible.

As written by Evan Schuman
“Essentially, this standard could cause merchants of all sizes in all industries to have to switch payment application vendors.”

Where the real mess begins…

Continue Reading »

April 3rd, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Updated Search Engine

Filed in: Merchant Accounts, Tools | 8 comments

The Merchant Account Search Engine has been updated. It’s been a while since I’ve added new sites. I just finished adding about 40 new blogs and informational websites.

As always, please send any recommendations of websites that should be included. Please keep in mind that blogs and websites will only be added if they’re mostly objective. Many of the merchant account blogs out there are only for self-promotional purposes, and these will not be included in the search engine.

Here’s a few of the sites that a currently in the engine…

March 31st, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Credit card interchange vote tomorrow

Filed in: Fraud, Industry News, Merchant Accounts, My Favorite Posts |

Much to the surprise of the merchant account industry, the congressional bill proposing to regulate interchange, is being attached to the credit reform act and is potentially being voted on tomorrow. Although the interchange regulation bill is related to credit cards and the credit industry, it has nothing to do with the credit reform act, and is an irresponsible means of passing an already poorly supported bill. The US Government Accountability Office, the US Justice Department, the American Banking Association, and the Federal Trade Commission have all directly warned congress against regulating interchange. To not even have a real vote on the bill is simply irresponsible governing.

Bloggers and advocacy groups like the NRF argue that this bill will level the playing field when it comes to processing costs. This may be true for huge retailers like Walmart, but will almost certainly reduce the quality of processing services to the small business in addition to a much greater overall cost. Just name a situation where government regulation ends in better quality services at a lower cost…

The argument against interchange has been fought by twisting the reality in what interchange is, who it goes to, why it’s charged, all by large corporations and angry merchants. While the US has some of the highest interchange costs in the world, we also have the lowest overall processing costs, the lowest setup cost, and by far the highest quality services in the world. In some countries, you would have to pay over a thousand dollars just to get setup processing credit cards, and your monthly bill could easily be double for the exact same services, all with lower interchange. Creating a non-competitive environment like the one proposed by regulating interchange, will create a situation much like the one described above.

I urge anyone in the processing industry, and anyone that stands against huge corporations like Walmart leveraging the government and small business owners to fight a cause that hurts everyone, to contact their representation.

February 11th, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Visa Alerts of Floral Credit Card Fraud

Filed in: Fraud, Industry News, Merchant Accounts | 2 comments

Visa issued another security alert today specifically for Floral Merchants. Given that Valentines Day is a few days off, this is important for many businesses out there. None of this is ground breaking news, but extra care should be taken by floral merchants when accepting payments over the phone, fax or online. If you aren’t, take some extra steps to prevent fraud, CVV2 may help in this case which cost nothing extra to process with. Also, be very wary of extremely large orders.

Typically fraudsters look for times when business are most vulnerable, and when business picks up a lot, oversight is often the result.

Illegitimate customers are placing orders for flowers using stolen credit card information. The orders are typically placed via fax, e-mail, and/or hearing-impaired relay calls. The perpetrator then requests that the florists wrap the flower arrangements in various amounts of cash and bill the difference to the credit card number(s) provided. These orders have been known to reach $4,000.00. A shipping address for the order is then provided to the merchant.

In some instances, the perpetrators have been known to hire an unsuspecting accomplice to pick up the flowers in person. This accomplice is then instructed to ship the flowers via UPS or the U.S. Postal Service.

When the true cardholder receives the floral charge on their monthly statement, they will initiate a chargeback, as the order was placed without their authorization. As a result, the merchant will become liable for the fraudulent sale.

February 4th, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Spotting large scale credit card fraud

Filed in: Fraud, Merchant Accounts | 11 comments

Card issuers have massive computer systems that handle transaction processing. These companies also have some very advanced and large scale fraud detection systems.

Every time a credit card is reported as stolen, a huge amount of past data about that card is put into a big database. This database of pre-fraud activity is used in a large algorithm to look for similarities, which can signal the origination of stolen or lost credit card numbers. Since Visa and MasterCard have access to billions of transactions worth of information, they can screen for events that may signal that a business is losing card numbers.

If you were to greatly simplify this system and a map from it, it would look something like this:

Fraud Detection

In this case, the similarity is a single business where all of the stolen credit cards had been used before the cards had been involved in fraudulent activity. This could potentially be the sign of an employee skimming card numbers, or a breach in a database. There are always going to be coincidences involving data on a large scale, but because of the scale, it’s very difficult to end up with false positive fraud once a margin of error is established.

Continue Reading »

February 2nd, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Visa issues security alert

Filed in: Fraud, Industry News | 11 comments

A few days ago, Visa issued a security alert (possibly in reaction to the recent Heartland breach) outlining some specific applications and IP addresses to look out for. What is unique about this alert that I’ve never seen before is that Visa gave a very specific list of malicious applications to search for on a network/computer, and a specific list of IP’s to block.

This tells me that Visa has explicitly identified threats, where they are originating from, and these locations are static enough that blocking them would actually do some good (IP blocking is a terrible way to prevent/stop malicious behavior).

Download the security alert »

Continue to Table 1 and Table 2 »

January 27th, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Just how big was the Heartland security breach?

Filed in: Fraud, Industry News, Merchant Accounts | 4 comments

I have been looking over a 2007 Nilson Report, specifically about the number of credit cards being used in the US. I then though, how much of an impact could the heartland security breach have on the US credit card industry as a whole? How big is the US credit card industry?

To start off, it is still unknown how many card numbers were actually stolen in the Heartland Breach. But, it is known that as many as 600 Million card numbers were exposed to malicious software. In terms of security (and logic in general), you can only assume the worst case until you can later prove that the situation is better (There is no innocent until proven guilty when it comes to security). So how many cards is 600 Million?

These are not exact numbers but are close… In 2007, there were about 200 Million card holders in the US. Of these card holders, they owned 321 Million Visa cards, 279 Million MasterCard cards, 52 Million AMEX cards, and 57 Million Discover cards. This makes a total of 709 Million credit cards. Since the account activity averages about 60% across all cards, there are roughly 420 Million active credit cards being used in the US.

Now putting this all together, the number of cards potentially stolen is about 50% more than every single active card of every cardholder in the entire country. Given the size of the breach, it’s unlikely that your card was not compromised if you made a purchase in the US between April and December.

Unfortunately a breach like this will have a negative impact of the entire credit card industry. I’ve heard a lot of “they had it coming” and cheers of joy from other people in my industry, but make no mistake, this is bad for everyone! We have yet to see the real start of what this is going to cost heartland and the credit card industry as a whole. I cannot imagine a scenario where Heartland comes out of this in one piece. They may prove me wrong, but the damage from this looks to be too great for any processor in the world to reasonable handle.

January 20th, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Heartland Suffers Massive Data Breach – update

Filed in: Industry News, Merchant Accounts | 2 comments

Heartland payment systems today has been reported to have been victim to one of the largest credit card data breaches in history.

Heartland discovered malicious software that was recording credit card information as it was being sent to heartland for processing. Heartland processes roughly 100 millions transactions per month, for 250,000 US businesses.

The data stolen includes the digital information encoded onto the magnetic stripe built into the backs of credit and debit cards. Armed with this data, thieves can fashion counterfeit credit cards by imprinting the same stolen information onto fabricated cards.

Right now it is currently unknown how much data has been collected, how/if it has been used, or how long the malicious software was recording information. The current largest data breach in history was about 45 million card number by TJX (TJ Max and Marshals) which cost the retailer almost $2 Billion dollars. Depending on how much data was lost, this breach could surpass the cost of the TJX breach.

I’ve been reading comments on various blogs and new sites on the internet and so far there is a lot of backlash and anger from consumers and businesses. We’ll see in the near future how this breach will affect Heartland, but it seems safe to assume that this will be an extremely costly event for one of America’s largest ISO’s.


The software on the Heartland’s network was installed as early as May. Based on the volume of transactions, as many as 600 million card numbers were potentially vulnerable, although the actual number stolen was likely less than this. With that sort of exposure, and the sheer number of merchants that process with heartland, it’s not impossible that every single card holder in the US was exposed in this data breach.

January 13th, 2009 by Jamie Estep

Merchant accounts as a measurement of the economy

Filed in: Merchant Accounts | 3 comments

During a recession or a downturn in the country’s economy, we typically see the unemployment rate go up. In the current situation, the unemployment rate has gone up a lot.

One of the few good things that comes from unemployment, is that it creates situations that allow new businesses to start up. What better motivation to start your own business than getting laid off?

One of the interesting facts about the credit card processing industry, is that we generally see an increase in new businesses during an economic downturn, especially when it involves a lot of lay offs and lost jobs.

Economy - Merchant Account Trends

This is blatantly apparent when comparing Google’s trend graph for the term “Merchant Account” to the S&P500 Index. The increase in searches for merchant account is a delayed inverse to the crash in stock price, which in this case is a good indicator of the country’s economy.

This is a positive trend to me, because it’s apparent that people are still getting out there and trying to open their own businesses. Financing is a major hurdle right now, but there are signs that we will see an increase of new businesses in the months to come. Real-estate is cheap, competition is evaporating, and those businesses who can get established in a difficult economy should excel when things do pick up again.