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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

More retailers testing payment by fingerprint

 •  If you think computer tracking is pervasive now, see what's next

By Lorrie Grant
USA Today

Paying for products with a fingerprint, rather than checks, cards or electronic devices, is among the newest cashless options at checkout.

Biometric access, as the process is called, might have a Big Brother feeling, but it is expected to speed customer checkout and cut identity fraud.

In some ways, biometric access tests consumers' willingness to give up some privacy to gain convenience.

A customer signs up by having a finger scanned into a database by special machines and designating a credit or debit card to which purchases will be charged.

To make a purchase, consumers have their finger read at checkout, often on a pad incorporated into a console that also reads swipe cards and provides for personal identification number (PIN) entry.

Food retailers are leading the way in trying out the devices.

Kroger, the No. 1 supermarket chain, has tested the technology in three Houston stores, said company representative Gary Huddleston.

Customers' fingerprints are linked with their driver's license, the store's loyalty card and a method of payment. The customer touches the finger-image pad, loyalty discounts are automatically deducted, and the account charged.

A McDonald's in Fresno, Calif., took fingerprints for payment from January through March. Other methods are now being tested.

"If we're able to handle people speedier, then they're likely to come to our restaurants," said Lisa Howard of McDonald's.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain is also joining forces with companies using other cashless payment methods.

For example, some 400 restaurants accept Speedpass. The device is a tiny key ring wand issued by oil giant ExxonMobil, originally just for its gas pumps. When waved over a sensor, at the pump or elsewhere, it bills the consumers' credit or debit cards.

Though once only commonplace in legal situations, fingerprinting is being used more in commerce. Institutions from banks to pawnshops are fingerprinting to authenticate transactions. Some gas-station convenience stores only cash checks for those who ante up a fingerprint.

"We wanted to eliminate the hassle of writing down all of the information: driver's license number, telephone number, Social Security number," said Ritesh Shah, owner of a Citgo service station in Hapeville, Ga.