Now Arriving By E-Mail... Money|
But consumers should consider potential risks
If you've got an e-mail address, you've now also got the capability to get money to or from other people online. It's called a person-to-person payment, or "P2P" in the language of electronic commerce. These systems are commonly used to pay for items at online auctions or to send money to friends and family members far away. But while this relatively new Internet option offers convenience, "consumers also should think about the potential risks," says Michael Jackson, an FDIC Senior Bank Technology Specialist. in some situations, where you can go for help and the procedures for handling consumer complaints may differ from those for banks."
In general, P2P works like this: If you'll be sending money, you must open an account with a service provider, which may be a bank or an Internet company. You'll be asked to provide key pieces of information, such as bank or credit card account numbers, and in some cases maybe even your Social Security number. To send a payment, you'll fill out an online form that asks for the dollar amount and the recipient's e-mail address. The payment likely will be charged to your credit card or deducted from your bank account. If you're receiving the payment, you'll get an e-mail about the payment along with instructions for getting the funds via a check in the mail, a credit to your bank or credit card account, or a direct deposit into an account at the P2P service provider for your own use in sending e-mail payments.
What are the potential risks? According to the FDIC's Jackson, there have been instances of fraud and identity theft, erroneous or unauthorized withdrawals from accounts, and failure to deliver the promised goods. (Note: The Federal Trade Commission says problems with Internet auctions are the #1 complaint of online consumers, who report paying for items that were misrepresented or that didn't arrive at all.)
To minimize risk, follow the basic suggestions in our cover story. For example: Deal only with a reputable company. Read the privacy and security policies posted on the Web site. Understand how the service provider or government regulations will protect you from unauthorized withdrawals and other troubles.
And, be aware that not all of the companies offering this service are banks. "This doesn't mean that nonbanks are unsafe to use," Jackson says, "but that,
or ask a customer service representative to find out whether the funds are protected against loss. Keep in mind that only funds placed in a deposit account at an insured bank or savings association are protected by FDIC insurance.