In the ongoing efforts to thwart credit card fraud, those rectangular pieces of plastic we all carry in our wallets are about to take a futuristic leap in security measures: MasterCard recently unveiled the world’s first bio-metric credit card, which uses the cardholder’s thumbprint to verify their identity.
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European Advancements in Security
European banks have long been at the forefront in introducing new security measures for credit and debit cards. While “chip and pin” technology is now ubiquitous across Canada, I first saw it in action in France more than a decade ago. After a meal on a Parisian patio with friends who lived there, I watched in amazement as the husband punched his PIN into a wireless device and paid for the tab from the table. It was five or more years later when I finally had the same experience at home.
Those PIN-enabled cards have more recently given way to contactless cards that you simply tap onto the swipe machines at the cash register. But tap purchases are usually capped at $100 or less to reduce fraud. (If someone steals a tap card, at best they could make a series of small purchases before the rightful owner cancels the stolen card or the credit card company freezes it for suspicious activity.)
Touching on a New Experience
MasterCard, working with a Norwegian firm called Zwipe, has finished trials of a card that incorporates a thumbprint reader right on the card. With this new system, the cardholder places their thumb on the card, and then taps it on the card reader. The idea behind it is that with our individualized thumbprints, that should be secure enough that retailers would okay purchases of any amount without the need to enter a pin. (Maybe it’s just because it’s close to Halloween, but upon learning about this I immediately had gory visions of criminal chopping people’s thumbs off so they can use stolen cards…) Some European banks, including Barclays are also experimenting with similar “finger-vein ID” technology for ATM withdrawals.
Implementation to Begin in UK
MasterCard plans to roll out the new cards full-scale in the UK as early as next year (2015). In an article in the Guardian about the new technology, MasterCard’s president of security solutions, Ajay Bhalla said, “Our belief is that we should be able to identify ourselves without having to use passwords or pins. Biometric authentication can help us achieve this – our challenge is to ensure the technology offers robust security, simplicity of use and convenience for the customer.”
One minor inconvenience is that customers will have to go to an old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar bank branch to register their thumbprint.
No word yet on if or when the technology may make it over to this side of the pond – or if and when we’ll be able to withdrawn money from an ATM by simply looking into a retinal scanner.