Until six months ago there was no easy way for consumers to send one another money through the Internet, but now a swarm of small companies and at least three major banks are offering such services and experts are predicting rapid growth for them.

So-called person-to-person e-payments - the consumer counterpart to the rapidly expanding business-to-business market - grew out of the popularity of auction Web sites like eBay.com. Buyers and sellers wanted a more convenient way than checks and money orders to ensure payment from people they didn't know. Once eBay and others set up systems to facilitate this, other uses seemed natural: sending money to a son or daughter at college, or repaying a friend who'd picked up a lunch tab.

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