Scantily clad tanning-salon customers need not even bring a wallet to pay at Zoom Tan Inc., which recently began using fingerprint biometrics to authenticate customers' credit and debit card payments.

The Naples, Fla.-based chain of 27 privately owned tanning salons in Florida and New York this year integrated its payment system with biometric technology from Redwood City, Calif.-based DigitalPersona Inc. The system now enables customers to opt to pay with previously registered credit or debit card simply by touching their finger on a reader at the salon.

The technology adds "a great deal of efficiency" to the firm's salons, which typically have only one staff member, Scott Bogdan, Zoom Tan director of operations, tells PaymentsSource. The firm also does not accept cash or checks.

"By accepting only cards and getting customers to register for biometrics, we save a lot of time and money," he says.

The fingerprint-check system also prevents fraud from friends and family members that might try to use a customer's prepaid tanning membership, Bogdan suggests.

Zoom Tan pays a card-not-present rate to its acquirer to process the transactions, Bogdan says. Card data are encrypted so the information is never exposed, he adds.

Customers are not required to register their fingerprints, but "once they understand how it works, a light bulb goes off and they realize it's a lot easier than getting their card out every time they come for a tan," he says.

DigitalPersona's technology captures an image of a customer's fingerprint, extracting "40-50 unique features," then encrypts it and stores it as a template used to match against the customer's actual finger on a point-of-sale reader, the firm says.

Zoom Tan's use of the fingerprint technology suggests biometrics for payments is not altogether dead.

Despite much early buzz, biometrics failed to take off as hoped, and industry interest waned after the 2007 bankruptcy of Solidus Networks Inc., which did business as Pay By Touch, a San Francisco-based startup that had raised $300 million and grabbed headlines in the biometric payments processing industry (see story).

DigitalPersona for years has strived to develop interest in biometrics at the retail level.

One of its largest implementations is Mexico's Banco Azteca, which widely uses biometric technology for authenticating employees' and customers' identities for account access, he says (see story).

Hundreds of restaurants and fast-food operators use DigitalPersona's biometric technology to verify employees' identities when punching in for their shifts and to gain access to computers and cash registers, he says.

And supermarket chain Meijer Inc. requires fingerprint verification through DigitalPersona technology for customers cashing checks, he says.

The firm now believes fresh interest is brewing in biometrics for point-of-sale applications.

"Everyone is talking about mobile payments, but biometrics serve some of the same purposes," Gary Oberman, DigitalPersona business development director, tells PaymentsSource. "It's secure, it's fast and biometrics could even play a role in securing mobile payments," he says, without disclosing details.

DigitalPersona is in talks with a major national merchant that plans to adopt the fingerprint-verification service in its stores for customers purchasing certain high-end equipment, Oberman says.

"We have every reason to expect to see more use of biometrics at the point of sale as merchants begin taking another look at the security and convenience factor it provides for payments," he says.

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