Extortion on the Internet

A daring hacker tries to blackmail an e-tailer--and sparks new worries about credit-card cybertheft

For web merchants and shoppers alike, there may be no greater fear than that of credit-card theft. And there is good reason. The idea that millions of credit-card numbers are being beamed to thousands of websites every day must be an irresistible lure to any hacker with a larcenous bent. Last week e-tailers were sweating over reports of an international cybertheft that for pure nerve, craft and brass rivals any ever tried before. If the FBI doesn't crack the case soon, skittish consumers, who had just started growing comfortable with the idea of Web shopping, could grow uncomfortable in a hurry.

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