A test drive of several person-to-person Internet payment services found that signing up is quick and easy, but transactions do not always go smoothly.
The necessary first step enrolling for an account can be accomplished in minutes with PayPal Inc., Citigroup Inc.s c2it, and Bank One Corp.s eMoneyMail. PayPal and c2it assign your e-mail address as your log-in name, while eMoneyMail makes newcomers choose a user name, giving them one more thing to have to remember.
Citigroup has been circulating e-mails offering people $10 to try c2it. PayPal is dangling a $5 rebate offer to people who sign up, but once the sign-up process begins, PayPal reveals that the only way to claim the $5 is by depositing $100 into a PayPal account via a checking account transfer hardly worthwhile for someone who intends to use the service to repay an occasional lunch tab. People can use Visa or MasterCard to send cash, but PayPal clearly tries to steer people from this: Every time a customer sends cash from a deposit account, PayPal enters them in a sweepstakes to win $10,000. Using a credit card does not merit an entry.
At eMoneyMail, people can only use Visa cards or checking account. None of the services permit use of American Express or Discover cards.
PayPal is free to consumers, c2it offers three months free and then charges $2 per transaction, and eMoneyMail costs $1 per transaction. All the fees are charged to the sender.
In samplings of these services, transactions made through PayPal and eMoneyMail worked without a hitch, but it took a lengthy phone call to Citibank to straighten out errors in a c2it transaction.
To test c2it, I tried to send $5 drawn from a credit card to my home e-mail address, and then to my husbands e-mail address. In the second case, I wound up with an error message, so I hit send again. The same thing happened, so I called customer service.
It took 10 minutes to fix the problem. The call center representative told me I had made an error in hitting the send button twice, and that I had sent the $5 two times. Then he said that I should not have been able to do that the system should have confirmed the transaction, then prompted me to begin a new transaction if I wanted to send more money. Still, he insisted, it was definitely a user error.
On the receiving end, c2it managed to bungle both transactions. The $5 I sent to myself at home arrived with a message in the subject line that a benevolent friend has sent you $5.00 by way of the c2it service! But inside was a confusing message saying that the friend had included this note with the request for cash clearly, a message meant to be sent with a bill, rather than a gift.
I was luckier than my husband, who never received my $5 gift, which came with a nice note. My account has been debited, and it has been more than two weeks.
A Citigroup spokeswoman who looked into it said the problem was an e-mail glitch resulting in failure to send notification. In other words, money had been set aside, though my husband was never told, which is a worst-case scenario in gift-giving: spending the money without the recipient gaining any benefit. The spokeswoman said the tangle with the e-mail system lasted no longer than several hours, and only around 100 people were affected.