MasterCard International Wednesday announced that it is lowering transaction charges for merchants that use its SecureCode service to authenticate online customers.The company also said that it will offer free network vulnerability scans for merchants under a new program to get merchants to adopt policies designed to protect consumer data."MasterCard understands that merchants are on the front lines of commerce," said Chris Thom, the company's chief risk officer, in a statement."We're working collaboratively with merchants by providing them with practical content, tools and support to help protect their customers' data," he said.Under the program, merchants that use SecureCode will be eligible for discounted charges that are as much as 16% lower than the fees associated with face-to-face transactions, the company said.SecureCode is a MasterCard service that lets merchants authenticate online customers by requiring them to enter a passcode known only to the cardholders and the issuing banks.All that merchants need to do in order to be SecureCode-compliant is to install a "plug-in application" and ensure that their transaction processor also supports the program, according to a MasterCard description of the program.SecureCode links a cardholder to a specific online transaction in much the same way that a signature does in the physical world, thereby reducing fraud and unauthorized cardholder chargebacks, the company said.MasterCard also announced that it would offer free network vulnerability scans for any merchant that wants them. The scans will be performed on MasterCard's behalf by five security service providers.Such scans are a requirement under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard mandated by MasterCard and Visa that went into effect last July.The free scans are an attempt to "get merchants started on the right foot and getting started right away," said Dave Collet, a MasterCard spokesman. Under the agreement that MasterCard negotiated with the participating service providers, each merchant will get one free network scan, Collet added.The offer expires June 30, according to the company Web site.The scans will also be limited to one IP address per merchant, according to a source close to the effort who wants to remain anonymous.The goal is to educate merchants - especially the smaller ones - on how such scans work and how to interpret the results, he added. Under the arrangement, each of the participating service providers will have a portal site that merchants can use to schedule a scan and access the results, he said."We are pleased to participate in this program," said Michael Petitti, senior vice president at Chicago-based AmbironTrustWave, one of the participating companies. "[It] provides merchants with the tools, resources and information to better secure credit card information and reduce the risk of fraud."