Digital World: Get your ePassporte to on-line purchasing

Israel's hi-tech industry has developed many of the advanced computer security innovations that have allowed the flourishing of on-line business around the world.

By DAVID SHAMAH
May 23, 2006 08:59
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computer cartoon 88. (photo credit: )

 
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You know that old saying, "The shoemaker's kids always do without?" It refers to a situation where an artisan is so busy churning out products for everyone else that he has no time to tend to his own needs. Based on my efforts to make an on-line purchase from Internet music stores using my Israeli-issued credit card, I've come to the conclusion that our "shoemaker" hi-tech parents have let everyone else in on the wonderful world of secure on-line purchasing, but have forgotten their own local "kids." Israel's hi-tech industry has developed many of the advanced computer security innovations that have allowed the flourishing of on-line business around the world. From telephony to firewalls to secure Web purchase systems, local companies have engineered some of the most important products that make the on-line Web economy go. Like they say on Pessah, if Israel had been responsible only for the development of e-commerce level firewalls (a la Checkpoint), the country's contribution to modern Internet business would have been enough. But the truth is that Israel has been active, if not the prime innovator, in many of the tools required to ensure safe and secure passage of credit card information from buyer to seller, enabling a purchase to be made (such as eSafe by Aladdin - http://www.aladdin.com - among others). But somehow our local credit card issuers - both Cal and Isracard - have missed out on technologies that are available to consumers around the world that make on-line purchasing more secure. As I mentioned last week, the only foreign-based MP3 site that will sell to us Israelis is AllofMP3.com, the Russian-based music site that sells "discount" music, much to the chagrin of groups like the RIAA, who have tried - unsuccessfully - to get both the Russian and US governments to shut the site down. For many of AllofMP3's customers, the fact that they can get an album from the site for $5 that would cost $20 on iTunes is enough reason to do business with them. For me, it's more about the access than the money. While I would love to buy music from iTunes or Napster, the companies responsible for those sites have declared my Visa card(s) persona non-grata, even though I can use them when travelling abroad without any problems (as well as use them at select "enlightened" Web merchants like Amazon.com or Landsend.com). If I had a choice, I'd buy from the iTunes store over AllofMP3.com - simply because I "trust" an American company like Apple more than a site in Russia, which has a terrible reputation when it comes to on-line law enforcement and seems to be at the center of many Internet scams and credit card information phishing schemes. Notice, by the way, that I used the terms "reputation" and "seems to have" when describing my perceptions in the way on-line business is done behind the former Iron Curtain. You see, that's exactly it; having been raised in Cold War- America, there is no way I will be able to get over my fear that the Russians are out to "get" Westerners like me. My prejudice is based completely on perceptions - which, the facts might bear out, are totally false! It could be that AllofMP3's on-line credit transactions are, in fact, handled more securely than Apple's. But I don't intend on giving AllofMP3 my credit card number in order to find out. The only way I'll make a purchase from a site like that is through an on-line payment agency like PayPal (http://www.paypal.com), or using a temporary credit card with a specific credit limit - like they have in America. In the US and Canada, for example, many major banks that issue credit cards (like MBNA and CitiBank) offer their customers the opportunity to acquire a "temporary credit card," which really acts more like a debit card. You add a specific amount to the card and they issue you a Visa or Mastercard number, which you use like a normal credit card - up to the limit of the amount of funds you designated for the debit amount. It's a great system for making purchases on-line if you're not sure about the security of the site you're purchasing from - or for any on-line purchase, as a matter of fact - because even if an on-line cyberthief gets hold of the database of the merchant you've made the purchase from, the maximum amount that will be at risk will be the amount you've "funded" the debit card with. It's not just a cool idea - its Gaonic, and one would think that banks would be at the forefront of promoting such an idea, if not to protect their customers, then to minimize the complaints of phishing fraud they are inundated with after a well-publicized hack attack . Not our local credit card companies, though. I asked both companies about temporary debit cards for on-line purchases, but was told they were not offered. One company apparently did offer it at one time, but no longer does. No one could tell me why they stopped. Ironically, one of the major providers of temporary credit card technology is a company called Cyota (acquired by an American firm last December), which developed its technology right here (see http://tinyurl.com/kk8ly). So, into the ether I went, searching for a solution to my dilemma. And I found it. Epassporte (www.epassporte.com) is a secure on-line merchant that will supply you with a temporary credit card number appropriate for use at iTunes, AllofMP3, or any other on-line site. You give them your real credit card number, limiting the amount you want to fill your temporary account with, and they issue you a number that will ensure your on-line secure shopping, with your only liability the amount you have on your ePassorte "credit card." Naturally, in order to pull this off, ePassporte itself has invested heavily in on-line security, and the verification and log-in process is a multi-step one that requires different pieces of information at different points in the purchase transaction thereby lessening the possibility that your information will be stolen from them. For this service, ePassporte charges $5 per $100 of credit ordered - a small price to pay to ensure that your losses are limited. And most importantly, with ePassporte I felt confident and safe enough to order music from AllofMP3. The order went through without a hitch, and the price was certainly right for music I've been considering converting from cassette tape to MP3 format (i.e. I already owned it once, if not twice - on cassette/LP and CD). It worked like a breeze, and AllofMP3 looks like a legit site, one that I'll be ordering from again. One added bonus of ePassporte is that it lets you set a billing address to anywhere you want - which means I can use the address of a friend or relative in the US or UK to order from the iTunes store. Will a prepaid debit card issued by a bank in the British commonwealth of St. Kitt's-Nevis allay Apple's trepidation at doing iTunes business with Israelis? I can't wait to find out. Ds@newzgeek.com

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