Skip to content

Everything You Need To Know About High-Risk Industries

Payment service providers looking to grow their businesses may explore a variety of industries, but some pose more challenges than others. Read more to understand what a high-risk industry is, what is required to obtain a merchant account in a high-risk industry, and how to help keep your ecosystems safe.

What Are High-Risk Industries?

A high-risk industry is defined by its likelihood to introduce more operational, regulatory, and reputational risk exposure. Major card brands categorize merchants using merchant category codes (MCCs), and payment service providers must ensure that their merchants are accurately coded.

High-risk industries fall under a broad scope including but not limited to:

  • Adult
  • Alcohol
  • Bail Bonds
  • CBD
  • Collection Services
  • Dating Services
  • Drug Stores and Pharmacies
  • Credit Services
  • Gambling
  • Hate/Harm
  • Loans and Other Money Services
  • Smokes and Vaping
  • Subscription Services
  • Supplements
  • Travel-related Services
  • Weapons

Some bad actors operating as high-risk merchants may attempt to enter the payments ecosystem through fraudulent means. Learn more about money laundering vs. transaction laundering.

High-Risk Merchants

In addition to the merchant’s actual product or service, a merchant may be considered high risk for operational reasons. This could include:

  • Large processing volume (either a high volume of transactions or a high average transaction rate)
  • Cross-border transactions, which entail more regulatory complexity
  • Merchants who are new
  • Merchants with low credit scores
  • Charges for products or services offered in the future

What Stance Do Major Card Brands Take on Products or Services in High-Risk Industries?

It’s important to know how card brands approach high-risk industries. Policies around risk mitigation play an important role in preventing the sale of potentially problematic products and services.

Mastercard requires acquirers to perform fraud control and risk monitoring, including but not limited to fraud screening and fraud scoring services. Their rules state that acquirers should classify high-risk merchants and diligently ensure sellers aren’t processing illicit transactions that could damage the brand and/or be illegal.

According to the new rules put forth under the Visa Integrity Risk Program (this program replaces the Visa Global Brand Protection Program), high-risk merchants are separated into three tiers — “High Integrity Risk Merchants are classified by business type and the level of risk they pose to the ecosystem.” These new rules state, “The High Integrity Risk levels consist of three tiers, with each tier requiring commensurate due diligence requirements.”

Monitoring High-Risk Industries Requires Interdepartmental And Interorganizational Teamwork

Mitigating risk requires a deep dive into commercial ecosystems and a nuanced understanding of compliance. Likewise, technology, underwriting, and sales strategies are necessary to ensure you’re safely operating within high-risk verticals.

According to Electronic Transactions Association, “Merchants operating in the high-risk vertical often offer significant revenue opportunities. However, additional resources are needed to underwrite and monitor these merchants.”

It’s important to confer with policy experts before entering into any high-risk industry so that you can develop guidelines to more safely onboard and monitor these merchants. It’s also important to stay abreast of trends to understand how these industries are changing and what types of emerging activity could expose you to risk.

Reach Your Growth Goals While Staying Compliant

Find out how LegitScript's advanced technology, robust data sets, and human expertise make us the leader in merchant risk mitigation.