American Express aims blue card at internet shoppers

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

Called Blue, the new card was officially launched last week 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 officials said. 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 internet 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 unauthorised 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 January 31, 2000. After that time, the readers will cost $US25 each.

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

American Express and rival Visa International, along with the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems, support a universal standard for online wallets called the Electronic Commerce Modelling Language (ECML).

Blue has its own Web site 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's Quicken accountancy software or to Microsoft'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. For example, Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynde, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow have been booked to perform in Central Park in New York on Tuesday, at an American Express-backed concert to celebrate Blue's debut.

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