Mobil Oil's three million credit card holders can now pay their monthly bills on the Internet for free.

To develop the on-line payment option, Mobil turned to the company that has been processing its customers' payments for more than 10 years - National Processing Co.

David R. Zook, executive vice president at Louisville, Ky.-based National Processing, said Mobil wanted a convenient and secure service for its customers that was as easy as sending a check through the mail.

National Processing is the nation's leading third-party processor of remittance payments, the second-largest processor of credit and debit card transactions, and the third-largest provider of check-acceptance services.

It will market the new service, Virtual Pay, to other clients and to noncustomers.

"We believe the Internet is going to be a pipeline and payment mechanism of the future," said Mr. Zook. "We don't think the volume will grow significantly in the early days, but we think the technology and the infrastructure will be key to the wallet in the future."

Mobil cardholders can make a payment by accessing Mobil's Web site. During the first "visit," cardholders must provide a check or credit card number for payment, the amount they want to pay, and their Mobil credit card account numbers. On subsequent visits, customers must only key in the payment amount and their Mobil account number.

The information is encrypted, and the transmission is authenticated so that it cannot be read, received, or intercepted by anyone other than the intended recipient, National Processing said.

Once the bill is paid, the customer is sent an electronic receipt that they can save as a file or print. National Processing said it will send Mobil the customers' payment in one or two days.

Mr. Zook described Virtual Pay as core to the evolution of products and services it will offer. "It's important for us to get this learning experience and get in on the ground floor for our customers and find the answers that work well."

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