ETrade offers online transaction safety guarantee

ETrade Financial Corp. is now offering wide-ranging fraud and bill payment protection to customers that use its online brokerage and banking services to guard against user losses and bolster the safety and reputation of its services.

In an announcement Tuesday, the New York-based company said its new ETrade Complete Protection Guarantee will provide full coverage against cybertheft losses for its online brokerage, banking and lending customers, effective immediately. The guarantee is in addition to the company's existing Web site security and procedural safeguards for online transactions.

Under the policy, ETrade Securities LLC or ETrade Bank will cover the full amount of any customer account losses that occur through unauthorized online activity. In addition, if a customer's brokerage, banking or loan payment is not sent as instructed, all related fees, penalties or finance charges will be refunded. The company also said it will not sell a customer's personal information to third-party marketers for any purpose.

'Consumers should feel that their money is safe,' said spokeswoman Pam Erickson. 'Whatever we can do [to encourage that safety]...we're going to do.'

According to an ETrade-commissioned study of 507 adult ETrade customers by research company Insight Express, 84 percent of the respondents see online fraud as a serious problem, while 77 percent believe the primary responsibility for online safeguards is with financial institutions.

For ETrade, however, the actual losses from online cybertheft have been relatively small in recent years, Erickson said. In 2000, the company lost an amount in the tens of thousands of dollars from fraud, she said. Losses in 2005 were less than US$2 million.