Security at ATMs in the island region of Macau will require cardholders from mainland China to scan their UnionPay cards and also pass a facial recognition scan prior to withdrawing cash as the government seeks to crack down on money laundering in the territory and restrict cash flow out of China.

As the only Chinese region to permit gambling, Macau government officials said the island has become a haven for criminals and tax dodgers seeking to launder their cash, pushing down the value of the Renminbi and draining capital reserves.

Macau authorities have yet to give a timeline for the roll out of facial recognition measures, although the initial effort will concentrate on ATMs installed in casinos, according to a government statement.

Bloomberg News
Bloomberg News

"Customers with bank cards issued in Macau and other regions do not need the [facial recognition] procedure and can carry out withdrawals as usual," a government official stated. "Financial institutions will closely monitor the situation of customer use."

Macau officials point to a 2014 Reuters investigation that found many mainland Chinese use state-backed UnionPay cards to circumvent cash withdrawal limits of 20,000 yuan a day, and either use that money to gamble or transfer it abroad.

Customers open multiple bank accounts, and then withdraw cash from each, or use pawn shops in Macau to make fake purchases, the investigation found.

The biometric safety measure is not uncommon across the globe. The move toward facial recognition as an authorization tool has been under consideration in the global financial services industries for the better part of the last decade.

Most recently, Samsung Electronics revealed the technology would apply to Samsung Pay in its Galaxy S8 phones.

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