SAFELY PAYING THE BILL IS THE BIGGEST CONcern of merchants, buyers and banks in South and Central America. Whether such concerns are holding back commerce, however, is under fierce debate. "People are buying overseas in part because of the fears put into them by local financial institutions," says Luis Samra, Star Media's online commerce chief. On the other side, banks and credit card agencies say their fraud concerns are legitimate and that the region needs higher standards than the United States. There is also a bit of self-interest involved. "We want to prevent fraud," says Visa Latin America's technology guru Day Jimenez. "But we also want to capture the natural market that belongs to us."

For whatever reason, many banks are forbidding merchants to clear credit-card sales online. "E-commerce in the U.S. was merchant driven, but in Latin America we are still working with the banks and Visa," says Alejandro Villanueva, director for Latin America of Microsoft's site. "The major banks will be very critical in...

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