The insurance industry was one of the last to open its private gates to the Internet. Apprehension about exposing confidential customer information and other proprietary data to the outside world prevented insurance companies from jumping too quickly on the e-business bandwagon.

But in the past 12 months, several major carriers-including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., Allstate Insurance Co. and Safeco Corp.-began selling policies online. Some carriers also provide Internet support for submitting and checking the status of claims. And, as insurers move into broader financial services, they're making plans to enable customers to access investment information online and via handheld wireless devices.

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