Internet Investor

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The Independent Online
MONEYWORLD, one of the UK's leading personal finance websites, is highly regarded and carries lots of useful information. In addition to its open format, Moneyworld now offers club membership (registration is free) which allows you to set up your own private portfolio and benefit from special offers and an investment newsletter.

The portfolio service lets you see an online display of the value of your investments. You can create multiple portfolios with valuations updated every 10 minutes, offering an at-a-glance view of the value of your holdings as the trading day progresses. Moneyworld intends to expand the service to include unit trusts.

Among the special offers currently available are holiday discounts, discounts on seminars held by Personal Finance Educational Services (PFES) and up to 40 per cent off the price of financial books in the MoneyWorld BookClub

However, Moneyworld has also suffered, on two occasions, the indignity of having its name taken in vain. Its site address is "moneyworld.co.uk". It recently had to resort to legal action over a website named "moneyworld.com" which was acting as a gateway to pornographic websites. Apparently the operator was earning a fee for each person who accessed the porn sites it was advertising. The site has now been withdrawn.

Previously, and perhaps more seriously, Moneyworld also took action against a Seattle-based share tipping operation with a similar website name. Most of us should be able to tell the difference between pornography and financial services at a glance; however, as more financial services become available online, honest confusion over Internet names will grow, as will the potential for fraud.

A new watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), last month issued guidance on investment advertisements on the Internet by foreign companies. UK financial internet sites are already subject to the rules and regulations covering other financial services providers.

The FSA believes that, if you can view an investment advertisement on the Internet in the UK, that advertisement may be interpreted as having been issued in the UK and, therefore, subject to UK regulations. Its new guidelines were issued partly in response to requests from US financial services providers.

Yet while the FSA's rules provide guidance for the honest purveyor, what of potential fraudsters? The onus is still on us to make sure we are dealing with the real thing. So check the website address, and if you are in any doubt, contact the organisation by other means. Remember that a website with an address including .co.uk or just .uk may not necessarily be based in the UK.

One site has been established specifically to help Internet users verify the credibility of investment websites. NotCon, an industry co-operative, hopes to have a supervisory board that will monitor all websites selling financial services. All properly regulated organisations supporting the initiative would be asked to display the NotCon icon on their websites. NotCon does not provide advice or endorsements about the quality of organisations, products and investments; it is concerned solely with providing consumer education and website authentication.

So far, the industry has been slow to respond - which is a pity. It is horribly easy to be fooled, as NotCon itself proved by registering the name virgin-direct.com, thus exposing Virgin's failure to check sites with similar names.

Moneyworld: www.moneyworld.co.uk

Financial Services Authority (FSA): www.fsa. gov.uk

NotCon: www.notcon.com

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