From the September 1999 issue of Startups

One of the biggest obstacles in the world of e-commerce is people's lack of trust in cyberspace transactions. Granted, the walls are beginning to crumble, but to appease those who want to examine the goods before parting with their cash, a number of escrow services have emerged. Two of the biggest are TradeSafe and i-escrow.

TradeSafe Online Corp. (http://www.tradesafe.com), the Web's first general merchandise escrow service, has recently taken on a whole new look, making it even easier for both Internet bargain hunters and providers.

The company recently unveiled its "Alliance" program, which includes online classified ad publishers and online auctions displaying the TradeSafe logo. "The logo [symbolizes] a safe haven for online buyers, sellers and traders," says TradeSafe CEO Ken Pereira.

An escrow agreement is a three-way contract agreed on by the buyer, seller and escrow service. These services typically provide form letters to explain the sales mechanism. After the buyer and seller have negotiated such things as the price and shipping method, the service assigns a transaction number. Buyers submit their credit card information or pay by check or wire. As soon as the funds have cleared, the escrow company notifies the seller to ship the goods.

Escrow service i-Escrow Inc. (http://www.iescrow.com) bills itself as a "personal online transaction manager" for safe e-commerce purchases and sales. Users include collectors and small merchants from around the world. The company's QuikTrack transaction-management capability provides your customers with 24-hour access to the status of all i-Escrow transactions. And i-Escrow will accept electronic payments (credit cards or wire transfers) as well as checks and money orders.

Service fees for iEscrow vary depending on the transaction amount and method of payment, with a minimum charge of $2.95.

Kurt Samson is a freelance business writer and public relations consultant in Annapolis, Maryland.