It's not every day the payments industry is compared to the drug trade.

But apparently it offers equal opportunity for motivated criminals.

"A Secret Service agent told us that organized crime is spending as much time on payments as on drugs," Thomas Swidarski, the president and chief executive of Diebold Inc., told audience members during a keynote address Monday at the ATM, Debit & Prepaid Forum, in Las Vegas. "Cyber threats are real … and attacking payments."

In an interview Tuesday, Chuck Somers, the North Canton, Ohio, automated teller machine maker's vice president of ATM security and global professional services, said criminals are interested in payments largely because it's a "low-impact" offense; jail time and violence are relatively low, especially compared to the distinctly less cushy lifestyle of people convicted of drug-related crimes.

Swidarski, who spent much of his talk discussing Diebold's security services and its ATM innovations at banks outside the United States, said that some international banks are bringing biometric technology to consumers as a way to verify identities at the ATM.

"We see thumbprints, fingerprints" and even a palm-print scanner deployed at the ATMs of a Brazilian bank, he said. "In the U.S., biometrics are still mostly employee-facing," but in countries like Brazil, banks that adopt such technology win public recognition for "thought-leadership" and "being innovative in the community."

The ATM, Debit & Prepaid Forum was sponsored by SourceMedia Inc., which publishes American Banker.

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