Coming to a screen near you

Rachel Fixsen goes for a wander through cyberspace
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The Independent Online
Swindles, child porn and mass murder games are not the only offerings to grace the Internet. If you want to get clued up about how best to manage your money, the expanding computer network is a good place to start.

Many people go blank at the very mention of the Internet, especially those who haven't even got to grips with computers yet. But more and more people have become switched on to the possibilities available to them on the Internet.

Moneyworld, an Internet magazine, says the majority of its users are males between 25 and 44. This web service has been running for two and a half years, and has between 60,000 and 65,000 regular users. Lin Wong, a Moneyworld spokeswoman, says: "People can sit in their office or at home and get all the information they want, without having to go to the library.

"A lot of people use the web for browsing and research and it's only once they've found what they're looking for that they actually pick up the phone and buy."

Having no computer or modem needn't stop you browsing the web. It is easy and cheap to use a computer at an Internet cafe, where staff are around to help you. Once you're up and surfing, use one of the many search engines which are offered to see what is around.

To get a quote for almost any type of insurance, try going directly to an insurance company's home page and then access the option you want. For example, on Direct Line's website you can fill in a user-friendly form. The firm says it aims to e-mail you an estimate within 12 working hours.

For a list of UK insurers and their website addresses, try Business Money's index of UK insurance companies.

If you're looking for foreign exchange rates, financial services provider Bloomberg has a page of key currency rates which, though not real-time, are updated frequently.

Moneyworld lists its advertisers and their home pages can easily be accessed from this menu. The fund management groups give up-to-date buying and selling prices for their unit trusts.

For a broader overview of performance figures for unit trusts, investment trusts, other funds and savings account rates, try HSW Powersearch from Moneyworld. Alternatively, visit the website of fund performance analysis firm Micropal.

Or try the Moneyweb site of former independent financial adviser Ian Dickson. The latest stories are on pyramid scams, why you should make a will, and there is one on how to interpret investment fund performance statistics.

For a more comprehensive guide to personal finance, look at the AAA Investment Guide's site. This claims to be equivalent to around 200 pages of print.

If you need real-time stock market quotes, you usually have to pay for them. Try Electronic Share Information's ESI personal finance website. You have to register to use the services, and only some of them are then free. For financial news you can access Reuters news items through search engine Infoseek.

Alliance & Leicester has an online calculator which you can use to work out different levels of mortgage repayment, while Nationwide has an interest calculator to show you how big a return you might get from its accounts.

Getting information from the Internet is one thing, but buying financial services in cyberspace is an altogether more hazardous activity.

The advent of a new specification called SET, Secure Electronic Transaction, developed by Mastercard and Visa, should be introduced next year to increase security for online payment card transactions.

Before you think about buying anything, take a look at the Securities and Investment Board's website. The SIB is the UK's main financial regulator. "If an investment opportunity sounds too good to be true, it normally is too good to be true, safe and/or legal," it says. Sound advice.

Business Money: financial-index.com/ukinsur.html

Bloomberg: www.bloomberg.com/markets/fxc.html

Moneyworld: www.moneyworld.co.uk

Micropal: www.micropal.com

Moneyweb: www.moneyweb.co.uk/index/html

AAA Investment Guide: www.wisebuy.co.uk

Electronic Share Information: www.esi.co.uk

Alliance & Leicester: www.alliance-leicester.co.uk

Nationwide: www.nationwide.co.uk

Securities and Investments Board: www.sib.co.uk

Direct Line: www.directline.co.uk

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