American Express Aims Blue Card at 'Net Shoppers

It's been green, gold and platinum. Now American Express Co. is releasing a blue version of its well-known credit card specially designed for shopping online.

Called Blue, the new card was officially launched yesterday and contains a smart chip which will offer customers additional security in their Internet-based transactions when used in combination with a smartcard reader, American Express said in a statement. Blue can also be used as a traditional credit card since it has the traditional magnetic stripe that can be swiped through and read at POS (point-of-sales) terminals worldwide.

In November, customers will be able to register on American Express' Web site for a software data management and storage application known as an online wallet to better facilitate 'Net purchases, the credit card company said. Customers only have to enter the required purchase data into their wallet once, such as their name, account number and shipping address. When they want to buy something online, they just click open the wallet and hit the "complete purchase" button, according to the company.

In order to prevent unauthorized access to an American Express online wallet, customers will be offered free smartcard readers which they then connect to their PCs. The smart chip in the Blue card stores a digital certificate unique to each card holder. When the card is placed in the reader, the cardholder enters his or her PIN (personal identification number), the digital certificate is read by the reader and the online wallet can be unlocked. American Express said it will provide cardholders with free smartcard readers through Jan. 31, 2000. After that time, the readers will cost US$25 each.

Blue card members are also offered a fraud protection guarantee which protects them against any unauthorized charges made online with their cards, American Express said.

American Express and rival Visa International Inc., along with the likes of Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., support a universal standard for online wallets called the Electronic Commerce Modeling Language (ECML). [See "Digital Wallet Format Simplifies Online Payment," June 14.]Blue has its own Web site -- http://www.americanexpress.com/blue -- where cardholders can check their current account status in terms of charges to their cards and pay their bills online. Cardholders can also download their card statements from the site into Intuit Inc.'s Quicken accountancy software or to Microsoft Corp.'s Money application.

The Blue Web site additionally offers preview information on upcoming concerts and performers, and cardholders can hook up to free simulcasts of concerts where American Express is an advertiser (http://www.blueconcerts.com/). For example, on Tuesday, Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynde, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow will perform in Central Park in New York, at an American Express-backed concert to celebrate Blue's debut.

American Express, based in New York, can be reached via the Internet at http://www.americanexpress.com/.

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