Credit cards used for far worse things than guns

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File

Credit cards are such a part of American life, most of us don’t really think all that much about them. In fact, they’ve become so important that most of the cards with have tied to our checking accounts have a Visa logo on the front.

As you well know, these companies have started tracking sales at gun stores. While they don’t know what you’re buying, they know where you’re shopping.

However, guns are lawful throughout the United States. Moreover, they represent the right to keep and bear arms.

But there are plenty of other shady things you can do with a credit card.

1. Escort services

That’s right. You can hire an escort with a credit card. On the surface, that’s no big deal. Officially, all you’re doing is hiring a woman to spend some time with you. Anything that happens from there is between two consenting adults.

But we all know damn good and well that “escort service” is a cover for prostitution in many cases, and yes, you can use a credit card for that, despite it being illegal in 49 states.

For the record, you can also pay for an actual prostitute in Nevada with a credit card as well. It seems that neither operation has their own unique merchant category code, either.

2. Drug paraphernalia

Marijuana is becoming legal in more and more states, but it’s still illegal in a lot of places. So is the paraphernalia associated with drug use.

That said, more than a few online websites are willing to take your credit card information in exchange for a bong or pipe that can be used to consume an illicit substance.

Head shops also exist in numerous places and many of them accept credit cards. These are all categorized as retail shops with no unique merchant category code that I can find.

Ironic considering you can’t use the credit card to purchase the pot itself.

3. Personal information on private citizens

This one is particularly troubling for me.

There are a number of sites out there that will sell your name, phone number, and address to anyone with a valid credit card. I’ve seen my own information pop up plenty, along with the names of family members such as my wife or my son.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why this could be a problem.

Sure, I have no doubt there are legitimate reasons for people to need this information and, as such, I can see why those who gather it would want to get paid, but I can also see the pitfalls.

For a stalker, this is the easiest way to determine where your target lives.

Adjacent to this are maps to celebrities’ homes and for pretty much the same reason. It’s one thing to be obsessed with Kate Upton, but when you can find out where she lives, that obsession could turn dangerous, yet the information is available to anyone with a credit card.

Within the merchant category code system, there is one for information retrieval, which might look like these services can be tracked, but that’s an illusion. After all, that also includes companies that retrieve stock information, direct mail data, among other things. There’s no tracking on just companies that find personal information.

4. Credit card skimmers

Credit card skimmers are a tool you can use to steal credit card numbers. They’re illegal to use and, for many, they’re illegal to own. Yet they can be obtained from retail places that I will not name for obvious reasons that accept credit cards.

This, unlike guns, is an item with pretty much no legitimate use for law-abiding citizens. However, one can use a credit card to buy a skimmer, which you’d think companies like Visa and Mastercard would have more of an interest in dealing with than the lawful purchase of firearms.

Further, these companies are generally coded as some kind of retail or wholesale provider.

5. Stolen property

It’s generally considered unlawful to buy stolen property. While law enforcement and prosecutors cut people who do so unknowingly a break, it’s still technically illegal. However, people use credit cards to buy stolen property all the time.

Pawn shops have been used in a lot of places to fence stolen goods. Serialized items might get checked with the police, but a lot of items don’t have serial numbers. Those goods can be bought and sold with even the pawn shops unaware of how they were obtained illicitly.

Plus, in this day and age, we have eBay, which is used to sell stolen goods directly, cutting out the fence.

And yes, credit cards are accepted both at eBay and most pawn shops. Again, there’s no unique merchant category code for these particular kinds of sales.

6. Explosives

Yes, credit cards can be used to buy explosives.

While you need special licensing for what most of us would term “real” explosives, you can buy them via a credit card from licensed sellers. There’s also no merchant category code for explosives sellers that I’ve been able to find.

Now, again, these sales are tightly monitored, but there’s no interest by ISO or the credit card companies themselves to track these sales at all.

In addition to that, credit cards can be used to buy components to make explosives, though many of those are pretty common household items.

7. Cryptocurrency

Some crypto exchanges will let you buy crypto with a credit card.

For many, this is no big deal because it’s an investment vehicle for them. I mean, I’m kicking myself for not jumping on Bitcoin in the early days.

But crypto is also used for illicit transactions. One can buy X amount of Bitcoin, then use them to purchase all kinds of illicit goods via the dark web. That includes things like stolen credit card numbers or Paypal accounts but isn’t limited to just that.

Despite this fact, there’s no real move by credit card companies to do anything about any of it.

In a related bit, you can also use them for Venmo payments, which also lets you buy all kinds of illicit stuff.


Now, to wrap all this up, understand I’m not actually advocating these companies monitor any of this. It’s not their place to try and prevent their customers from doing hinky stuff and I definitely have no desire to tell them not to profit however they can.

What I’m trying to do is show how credit cards can be used for things a lot closer to illegality than lawful gun sales, and no one seems to mind that at all.

To target gun sales like they have is especially troubling to me because this is our right to keep and bear arms that’s being snooped on.

And, frankly, I hate hypocrisy.