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Internet shoppers surf till they drop

Cyberconsumers may be getting over their reluctance to use credit card numbers over the Internet, according to a new survey.

Cyberconsumers may be getting over their reluctance to use credit card numbers over the Internet, according to a survey released by Find/SVP at the Web Marketplace conference in Chicago this week.

Only 19 percent of Internet users are shopping online, but 59 percent would like to, according to the survey, which was based on 1,000 random phone interviews with adult Internet users late last year. Of those who are shopping, 64 percent send their credit card numbers over the Net. The rest opt for other means of payment, including checks via mail or credit cards by phone.

Some observers believe that the survey shows that users are getting over their fears of Net security breaches, or at least putting them in perspective.

"When you give your credit card number to an operator at an 800 [phone] line, you're basically trusting someone you've never met and a company you've never heard of," said Chris Jennewein, director of the Knight-Ridder New Media Center and former general manager of the Mercury Center, the fee-based online version of the San Jose Mercury News newspaper. "The risk is small, relative to the reward. The same is true of the Internet. Sending a credit card number through a secure browser is certainly as safe as giving your number over an 800 line."

The Mercury Center itself, however, does not yet allow subscribers to send credit card information via the Web site and employees complete company transactions by sending credit card numbers via overnight delivery service instead of the Web, according to a Mercury Center employee who asked not to be named.

Whatever the truth about Net security, the survey may show a changing perception of the safety of electronic commerce. "A lot of people believe the Internet is no more dangerous than phone lines," said Dan Campbell of Find/SVP's Emerging Technologies Research group.

Of those who are shopping online, 46 percent of customers are buying software, 23 percent computer hardware, 22 percent books, and 16 percent music.

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