Cashpoint fraudsters set to be palmed off

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Hold out your hand and take a close look at your palm - beneath the skin you will see a faint pattern of veins. This is set to become the latest weapon in the fight against banking fraud.

Two Japanese banks, Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Suruga, are rolling out palm readers across their country in an attempt to combat cash machine fraud. And next month Fujitsu, the company behind the technology, will bring its palm reader to the UK for trials.

The vein patterns in the hand are unique to each person. Fujitsu's scanner, which is attached to the banks' cash machines, uses infra-red light to pick out users' veins and so authenticate their identity.

Japan is suffering a wave of cashpoint fraud, with organised gangs stealing users' PIN numbers to gain access to the money held in their accounts. But unlike in the UK, Japanese banks don't reimburse customers who have had cash stolen. So, there is huge public pressure on the institutions to use biometric technology to tackle the crime.

The banks first considered introducing fingerprint technology, but the palm readers won the day because the Japanese considered them to be more hygienic; they don't require the users to touch the scanner.

Richard Boothroyd, principal consultant at Fujitsu Services, said: "It takes about half a second to scan, and research shows that palm veins are more secure than fingerprints - which now have a reputation for being relatively easy to copy. There is a lot of interest at the moment, and we will bring this to the UK in June."

According to Apacs, the British payments association, some £74.6m was last year lost in fraud though the UK's 55,000 cash machines. But UK banks are unlikely to embrace palm readers as enthusiastically as the Japanese. An Apacs spokes- woman said: "We won't go down the biometrics route yet because we have just spent a large amount of money on chip and pin as a fraud-busting initiative."

She added: "Biometrics is not robust enough yet - the technology rejects too many genuine people." But Mr Booth- royd said: "Chip and pin is fundamentally flawed because most people's PIN is the same as their bank ATM number."