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The check's in the mail ... maybe

Nothing brings a smile to the face faster than those three little words. You know the ones I mean: "You've got cash.

Nothing brings a smile to the face faster than those three little words. You know the ones I mean:

"You've got cash."

Several new e-payment firms want to help you hear those words more often and are making it easier to send money via e-mail, accept credit card payments or otherwise transfer funds over the Net.

Recent research suggests they're onto something: Consider that 6 million users now shop on eBay, the granddaddy of garage-sale-style auction sites, and Forrester Research predicts that the online auction industry will reach $19 billion in three years.

Meantime, Net shoppers are growing more comfy with the idea of using credit cards online: CyberDialogue reports 19.2 million people in the United States used plastic to buy online in 1999, double the 1998 figure.

Taken together, the time seems ripe for any firm that can supply a secure, convenient and inexpensive solution to person-to-person payments online. So far, the leading options include:

  • PayPal, which allows you to "e-mail" money to anybody with an e-mail address much the way Western Union lets you wire funds, for free;

  • Billpoint, which lets you accept credit card transactions; and

  • Bank One's eMoneyMail, which lets you e-mail funds via the online bank.

    Drawbacks Sadly, no one service has emerged as ideal. Drawbacks include waiting up to a week to collect your free PayPal transaction. And there are others, such as:

  • paying a per-transaction fee to use Billpoint,

  • paying Bank One at least $1 to send (and sometimes also to pick up) money, and

  • leaping through hoops, like waiting for PayPal to send forms via snail mail when you want to send more than $200 to someone.

    Furthermore, recent Net security breaches are having a chilling effect on our willingness to commit sensitive data to the Web.

    Consider the fallout from February's hack attacks, concern that credit card data might have been stolen during a RealNames hack and the recent disclosure of a January 1999 theft of 485,000 credit cardsfrom an e-commerce site.

    Taken together, these hits promise to make it ever tougher to convince Net users to trust yet another e-commerce newcomer, and they promise to slow consumer adoption of any online payment service.

    Still, "You've got cash" is music to anyone's ears. In some cases new Net payment options make it easier to hear those melodic words. But sometimes you may find getting a check the old-fashioned way, by mail, is not only safer, but faster and cheaper, too.