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A credit card in the tip of your finger

Biometric fingerprint technology comes to credit cards

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Credit card users who leave their wallets at home may still be able to make purchases, now that the tip of a finger can substitute for their forgotten plastic at a number of retailers.

Shoppers at certain merchants can now pay using biometric technology -- in which automated methods confirm an identity based on unique physical or behavioral traits.  These customers (who have registered their fingerprint and account information) simply place their finger on a scanner at the store's checkout and enter their home phone number.  The cost of their purchase is then automatically transferred from a credit card or bank account.

Experts and consumer both seem to have faith in the technology.  Over 3.3 million consumers have signed up for biometric technology, while experts cite biometrics' strength in deterring identity theft.  By using fingerprints (other biometric technologies include scans of the eyes, palm skin, voice and face patterns), transactions can be made more secure. 

Biometrics help with security since they make use of patterns that are unique to every person.  Fingerprints, for example, are not shared with anyone else and cannot be lost or forgotten like a credit card, debit card or PIN.  Of course, the danger is that biometrics users who do become victims of identity theft cannot simply change their fingerprint as they could with a credit card or Social Security number.

But companies like MasterCard, which has tested biometric technology, have not suggested that images of fingerprints or other physical characteristics be stored.  Rather, they have experimented with finger minutiae, which express the details of a consumer's finger as an algorithm.  Should a hacker break into such a system, all the criminal would find is a number rather than an image of a fingerprint which the thief could steal.

Biometrics experts note that credit cards are the biggest consumer application of biometrics, particularly as credit cards become more sophisticated, with smart cards of the future expected to contain greater value and more sensitive information.   

Shoppers that use biometrics will no longer have to hand over a credit card, type in a PIN, or sign a receipt.  Additionally, biometrics could offer an instant age verification for consumers who are buying alcohol or tobacco. 

Published: December 13, 2006


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Updated: 12-09-2016


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