Two accountants' associations are offering an auditing service to break down resistance to using the Internet to purchase mutual funds and other products.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, have developed the CPA WebTrust, a program with which an accounting firm can audit a website for the safety of online transactions and safeguards of confidential consumer information. The accountants' groups license users of the program.

Those who pay for the audit and are awarded a certification seal can display the seal on their webpages where online transactions or orders are made. Participating sites are audited every 90 days.

Norman Welch, a certified public accountant from Baton Rouge, La., has set up his own CPA firm, Welch & Associates, to exclusively sell and service the WebTrust program. Welch is licensed through the AICPA.

He plans to target mutual fund companies because he sees a lot of potential business with them. But, no mutual fund companies have used the program yet. E*Trade, the discount online brokerage from Palo Alto, Calif., is the only financial services firm that has so far signed up for the program.

Welch does not believe that Internet security is a problem with mutual fund companies because of their investment in top technology. But he does believe that the concerns consumers have with the Internet hinder the potential of electronic commerce. He thinks that the WebTrust program will help alleviate investors' fears.

"It offers a bit more peace of mind for the people," Welch said.

Welch thinks most Internet hackers hack for fun, not to steal money and vital information.

"The majority of them don't do it to intentionally harm you," Welch said. "They do it to see what they can do." However, the technology that hackers use always keeps up with the technology of the companies trying to do business on the Internet, he said.

"That's where we come in - to make sure they're (the mutual fund companies are) using technologies that are available," he said.

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