Canadian patrols the seamy underside of global e-commerce

A Canadian resident who screens Web sites and content for a global online payment platform says that while the work is rewarding, she does see some things she’d rather not.

In an interview with, Melissa Andrews described her work with the merchant risk team at Britain’s Payza, which specializes in e-commerce processing, corporate disbursements, and remittances for individuals and businesses around the world.

Her work involves pinpointing and closing illegal sites – and notifying authorities about criminal activity. Given the worldwide reach of the work, that means she deals regularly with agencies such as the RCMP, the FBI, the U.S, Department of Homeland Security, Interpol and others.

Good analytical skills, a curious nature, an investigative drive and a solid understanding of Web technologies are key to the job, Andrews said. “That said, while it has prepared me for the reality of the job, I am still sometimes surprised at what you can find online.”

Having an e-commerce site accepted by a major online payment platform offers a degree of legitimacy and convenience that attracts Web site owners of all kinds. Most of the sites submitted for Andrews’ review are basic e-commerce sites, but some “make you question who comes up with that kind of stuff.” Some websites merely violate the user agreement but others go way beyond that.

“Most bad sites will try and hide the true nature of what they’re doing,” Andrews said. “They’ll offer a simple product like coffee or shoes, but behind the scenes be selling illegal drugs, or promoting hate, racism, etc. But the ones that bother me the most are any that have pre-adult content. Unfortunately content like that exists and I’m happy to be able to help shut it down.”

One recent site that a “client” submitted for review didn’t even try to hide its gruesome videos and images related to death, Andrews said. “Another sold access to videos or images that were extremely graphic of people being brutally murdered, attacked, tortured, violated, etc., and also linked to other websites that offered underage pornographic content.” Another site initially seemed to be offering nothing more distasteful than car wash soap, but turned out on deeper investigation to be peddling a date-rape drug.

“While it takes a certain type of person to be able to do this job, the truth is you can’t un-see what you saw,” Andrews said. “There are times when you feel like going home to watch a cartoon to reclaim some innocence.”

Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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