Barclays fingers PIN fraud

Bank tests police technique to combat pounds 97m-a-year racket
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The Independent Online
The annoyance of forgetting your PIN code could soon be a thing of the past. Barclays Bank is piloting a new cash dispenser security system based on a technique used by police to finger crooks.

It hopes its fingerprint recognition system can be used in a future generation of smart cards for use in hole-in-the-wall cash dispensers. More than 40 staff at the Emerging Markets Unit in Northampton are participating in a trial run of the system. When rolled out nationally, it will give customers access to their accounts by merely inserting their cards and pressing a thumb or finger against a sensor pad.

Officials at the programme were quick to dismiss fears that it might encourage muggers to abscond with their victims' fingers as well as their cards. Without blood pressure, the severed digits will not produce the same pattern.

A similar programme in South Africa, which distributes payments to 450,000 pensioners, has resulted in only one attempt to use an amputated finger in more than six years. The gruesome ploy failed.

Bank officials added that it would cost criminals more money to copy fingerprints from items touched by the cardholder than they could hope to make from illegally raiding an account.

The devices work by "reading" 40 to 50 characteristics - such as whether the pattern has whorls or arches, the lengths of lines and how far apart they are. The resulting digital information is then combined into a single, discrete code.

The change will be made possible in part by the introduction of smart cards - which contain embedded microchips and can store far more data than the traditional magnetic stripe cards.

Customers will probably be asked to register the prints from two digits - one from each hand - with the bank so that it can be operated even if one is obscured by a sticking plaster.

Bill Perry, the senior project manager in Northampton, figures the process will take a third as long to operate as asking customers to remember their PIN codes and key them in through a number pad. "We know people forget their PIN codes," he said. "I don't know the number for my own card because I usually use my wife's."

It will also help to cut down on the estimated pounds 97m a year in credit and cash card fraud in the UK. While PIN codes can be borrowed or stolen, fingerprints will prove that the holder of the card is legitimate.