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American Express charges into Web-building business

The financial institution is getting into the Web development business, offering to help build Web sites for any merchant that agrees to accept payment with the American Express card.

American Express is getting into the Web development business, offering to help build Web sites for any merchant that agrees to accept payment with the American Express card, the company announced Wednesday.

American Express will offer such e-commerce tools as free Internet access, site design, hosting services and online payment processing. The offering targets small to medium-sized businesses that have yet to set up shop online.

For one of the offline world's marquee financial institutions, the move is part of a campaign to seize Net turf away from competitors Visa and MasterCard.

Visa is far and away the preferred payment method online, according to a consumer survey conducted last year by Internet study group Jupiter Communications (now Jupiter Media Metrix).

About 53.6 percent of those surveyed said they used Visa, while about 27 percent said they used MasterCard. American Express came in at a distant third with 9 percent, followed by the Discover Card at 8 percent.

While most people don't think of the credit card companies as Internet players, in truth they are massive e-commerce enablers. About 98 percent of all online transactions are made with credit cards, according to a Jupiter spokeswoman.

In September, American Express unveiled several security and privacy-protection products that included a "disposable" credit card number designed to prevent fraud.

Visa has also bulked up its security offerings recently. On Wednesday, Visa USA announced that it will monitor online merchants to ensure that they meet Visa's security requirements.