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Industry Players Assure E-Commerce Security

Would-be online shoppers need not worry about the safety of their online transactions, as encryption technology evolves and crackdowns on fraudulent businesses increase, according to some of the industry's biggest players.

"Buying online is as safe, if not safer, than the offline world," said Robert L. Smith, Jr, executive director of shop.org, who sat on a panel of a recent chat hosted by theglobe.com. He was joined by Ken Casser, digital commerce analyst for Jupiter Communications.

"I know of no instances in which credit card numbers were stolen in transmission," Casser said. "Presumably, hackers could intercept a number as it travels through the Internet. But from what I understand, the encryption is so strong that it would take days to decode the SSL (secure socket layer) transmission. Essentially, SSL encryption puts a nearly impenetrable shell around your credit card number."

As online shopping becomes more mainstream, industry standards are improving security as well. BBBonline, the Internet arm of the The Better Business Bureau, certifies sites to protect against fraudulent merchants, said panel member Paul Confrey, vice president of e-commerce at Mastercard. When it comes to fraud however, he said it's the merchants who lose more often than the consumer.

"Merchants are seeing a lot of stolen card numbers, but most of the stolen numbers were ripped off in the real world," commented Confrey. "The biggest problem with fraud on the Web today (measured by dollars lost) is theft from merchants, not theft from shoppers."

Jupiter Communications reported that 65 percent of those who have already made online purchases still consider security a major issue. "Not surprisingly, it is an even bigger concern for those who have not yet bought," Casser added. But because of word-of-mouth and media reports, the e-commerce starting to take off.

The best tool to protect yourself is common sense, according to all the panel members.

"Good judgement is always a good rule of thumb. Stick with merchants that you're familiar with," said Casser.



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