Revel Systems Inc. is launching a system that adds security to swiped card payments by displaying the accountholder's photo on its iPad-based point of sale terminal.

Its technology allows a retail clerk to match a photo on the screen with the shopper, making it harder for fraudsters to use stolen cards, says Chris Ciabarra, co-founder and chief technology officer for San Francisco-based Revel.

"This new security feature came about because of identity theft," Ciabbara says. "Of all of the security methods out there, this resolves the identity issue by providing a picture of the cardholder on the POS screen."

Consumers can register for the added security by creating a Revel account on the company's website. When registering, the cardholder would transfer a photo from a social media account or upload it from a computer.

"The merchant will encourage the cardholder to take this extra security step by mentioning the feature and providing the Web address at the bottom of their receipt," Ciabbara says.

Revel provides the photo ID system, which it is announcing today, at no charge to retailers that already use its point of sale technology.

Revel has a patent pending on the technology and the company would like to provide it to other companies in the future for a fee, Ciabbara says.

In nearly two months of beta testing, merchants reported no technology snags or concerns about the photo ID concept, Ciabbara adds. The system works alongside other security methods, such as chip-and-PIN.

Square and PayPal incorporate a similar system in their digital wallets. Users "check in" with a mobile app that displays the customer's face, telling the merchant which person to associate with the cardless account.

Such systems have as much to do with loyalty programs as with security, says Avivah Litan, a vice president at Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based market research company.

Revel is adding a layer of security that makes a lot of sense in the fight against fraud, Litan says.

"It really is a form of biometrics because you are being identified by your face," Litan says. "The more you think about how to upgrade security, with all of the attacks taking place, this is a good way to do it."

However, it's not a perfect system, Litan says, because "you are relying on the cashier's eyes" to authorize a transaction.

"If someone came in with sunglasses and a scarf, the clerk may not want to take the time, or might be embarrassed, to ask that person to take off the glasses," Litan says.

Still, photo ID security "is definitely a step in the right direction" in the payments industry's ongoing battle with fraud, she says.

In the future, Revel can add technology to the photo ID concept, Ciabbara says. "It would be possible to add age verifications or make use of passport credentials, depending on the merchant vertical in play," he says.

Currently, Revel has about 1,000 merchant locations using its iPad system in the U.S. The company has also established itself in Australia and plans to pursue more business in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, Ciabbara says.

Revel has mostly served the restaurant industry, and the company began targeting larger retailers late last year with its POS system.

"We are now incorporating the use of independent sales organizations and we'll aggressively be using ISOs during the second quarter to expand our business," Ciabbara says.

In addition to the photo ID feature, the Revel 2.0 upgrade includes new encryption codes and mobile device management through a partnership with MokiMobility, which allows Revel to lock down lost or stolen iPads. 

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