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Fingerprint identification: for some, it's like getting the cold shoulder.

Every now and then, a Department of Public Safety (DPS) FCU member is "put off" when their hometown CU teller asks them to use the biometric fingerpad to verify who they are, said David Morton, manager of the 3,800-member CU.

"Some members expect the credit union to know them by name," Morton explained. "But it's hard for all of us to know 3,800 members."

Fortunately, most of the DPS membership-highway patrol and their families-are all too happy to proffer a finger in exchange for proof-positive authentication at the branch.

"The main feature that members appreciate about biometrics is that it helps to prevent ID theft," Morton continued.

DPS members are not alone. Americans are hankering for better protection against ID theft, and biometrics is the preferred preventative over smart cards and tokens, according to a recent Unisys Corp. survey. Unisys is an international technology services and solutions company headquartered in Blue Bell, Penn.

Still, the $25-million DPS FCU is a technology trailblazer. Only 10% of the country's federal CUs currently employ biometric authentication, according to last year's NAFCU survey.

Only about 100 credit unions nationwide have gone biometric, estimates Bill Rogers, publisher of the newsletter Biometric Digest. "I don't think the vendors have been doing a good job in presenting ROI," said Rogers.

Morton saw the future for his small CU-and the future looked fraudulent. Biometrics was part of the solution, he said.

"We're beginning to be affected by phishing attacks and fraudulent checks and people who have signed up and who aren't eligible to be members," Morton explained. "We hadn't experienced any of that in the past.

"We've looked beyond the phishing and the check fraud and realized that we're also going to get people who will come in and try to pass themselves off as members" he said.

Members place their fingers on the glowing reader window of the 3-by-2-inch pad, which captures and encrypts the fingerprint image before sending it to the teller's PC for verification.

"We ask all members to verify themselves with the biometrics every time," said Morton. "We consider biometric authentication as an element of our CIP and try to sell it as protecting their identity."

DPS also scans and electronically stores member driver licenses and social security cards in efforts to "know the member," he said.

The BioTran Biometric Member Verification solution and Validity ID Scanning and Verification System are provided by RG2 Solutions, a credit union technology integrator and consulting company based in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Although the biometric authentication is automatic, members still have to lean over and whisper their account numbers to the teller. "With our acoustics, everyone in the branch can hear what you're saying, and some members shy away from giving out their account numbers."

Soon, the BioTran software will not only verify the member, but will also automatically return the member's account to the teller screen. "We're anxiously awaiting completion of that feature," Morton said.

The account return feature necessitates a more complicated, potentially costly, identification technology, as well as an interface to the CU's core system, said Roger Grant, president of RG2.

Morton-who came to DPS after 17 years as an NCUA regulator-isn't surprised that his two-teller station, one-branch CU in November became the first to verify members using BioTran.

"As a regulator I found that most credit unions are slow to embrace technology, which is a big competitive factor considering banks are very technology-oriented," said Morton. "Credit unions say they're used to doing it the old way and they're comfortable with it."

Biometrics suffers a "futuristic" image instilled by Hollywood, Grant added. "Thus in most everyone's mind it is not a stable technology-plus they think it must be really expensive."

CUs should expect to pay an upfront cost of about $6,000 for BioTran, depending on the complexity of the integration, said Grant. Fingerprint readers cost $100 each.

The biometric technology delivers foolproof verification, with no failures to read even rough or worn fingerprints, Morton added.

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For additional information:

* DPS FCU at www.dpsfcu.org

* RG2 Solutions at www.rg2solutions.com

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