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Biometric comes to Topeka

The president of Falley's/Food 4 Less of Topeka envisions a day when consumers will shop for groceries, approach a cash register and, rather than reach for a wallet or purse, pay for the entire purchase with the touch of a finger.

Topeka's Falley's and Food 4 Less stores are nearing this future with the installation of a fingerprint recognition system for check cashing. The stores have installed Biometric Access Corp.'s SecureTouch Touch--Pay systems at customer service counters in all eight Topeka stores for use by those wanting to cash payroll or government checks, or personal checks up to $25.

"You come in and you can put your finger on this piece of glass. It knows it's you," said Stan Edde, Falley's/Food 4 Less of Topeka president. "What it's all designed to do is to keep your ID out of sight."

By taking a digital image of a customer's right and left index fingers, the system creates files from which it can match the unique pattern and ridge characteristics of a person's fingerprint. In order to complete future check-cashing transactions, the person standing at the counter must be the same as the person who enrolled.

The new system currently isn't used for purchases in the regular check-out line. It only is used for check cashing at the service desk.

Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Food 4 Less, S.W. 21st and Fairlawn, has installed a new fingerprint system called Biometric for check-cashing purposes. The technology allows people to cash checks with the touch of a finger and helps prevent fraudulent checks.
"It gave us the ability to serve customers better," said Mike Moore, director of store operations for Falley's/Food 4 Less. "We couldn't accept payroll checks for more than $400 because of the liability."

The stores now cash payroll checks up to $800, with a processing fee of $1 per $100.

Moore said customers also are more secure in the knowledge that a lost check can't be cashed by anyone else.

A trial period that began in September in its Wichita stores sold Falley's/Food 4 Less on the system, Moore said, and Touch--Pay was expanded to Topeka and St. Joseph, Mo., stores in February. Moore said the rest of Falley's/Food 4 Less' 31 stores will have the system installed by the end of June.

While not wanting to quote exact figures, Moore said the stores are cashing more checks since the switch.

"We're only doing the Biometrics at this point for check-cashing purposes," Moore said. "We're looking at the option of rolling it out to the check stands also."

Customers sign an agreement with the company that gives it permission to keep information including a person's driver's license and Social Security numbers in the Touch--Pay system. Ken Knese, vice president of point of sale for the Austin, Texas-based Biometric Access Corp., said no one at the stores has access to the stored customer data and said Touch--Pay uses an encryption system similar to that for credit card transactions.

An employer name and contact are required, and Biometric Access Corp. verifies a person is employed at the company listed before approving payroll check cashing. A copy of the type of check to be cashed also is scanned into the system, with routing numbers matched and authenticity verified. Hence, there is a waiting period of three to seven days between sign-up and the time an individual's first check can be cashed.

"With that information, it makes it very difficult for a fraudulent check to be cashed," Knese said.

Individuals who have personal checks rejected for insufficient funds, for instance, can be flagged in the system so the problem can be addressed or future check cashing denied.

Knese said Biometric Access Corp. is working with other grocers nationally that have installed the Touch--Pay system throughout entire stores, wherever money changes hands.

He said that at stores using the full system, enrollment is optional, though he said he has seen enrollment continue to increase as more skeptical consumers watch others using the system. Knese said the average check transaction goes from 1.5 minutes on paper to less than three seconds with the Touch--Pay system.

For checkout transactions, customers can register credit cards, food stamp or other benefit cards, or a bank account so that future transactions can take place without the cards present or with a paperless check, or customers can choose to pay the old-fashioned way, with cash.

"It's not a Big Brother situation," Knese said. "It's information that's there for the sole purpose of making it simpler and easier to do a transaction at the supermarket."

Meanwhile, the system protects grocers from fraudulent checks.

"If I'm a crook, do I want to leave the best piece of evidence behind?" he asked, holding up his index finger. "If I'm going to do it, I'm going to go where there's the least resistance.

"It's more meant to make it easier for the good customer to do business with you. It rewards the good people and it frustrates the bad people."

Amy Bauer can be reached at (785) 295-1231 or amy.bauer@cjonline.com.

Touch of a finger

Local Food 4 Less and Falley's stores are using Biometric Access Corp.'s SecureTouch Touch-n-Pay system for check cashing. Here is how a transaction works:

A customer approaches the customer service counter and either swipes a driver's license, credit card or other ID card with a magnetic strip, or types in a home phone number. The system prompts the person to place a finger on the small oval scanner, and a digital smiley face gives a wide grin when the right image has been captured. The system confirms or denies the match and allows the user to choose the type of transaction.

Biometric technology identifies an individual through unique characteristics, such as fingerprints. The technology also is being used for:

Building access in health care or other settings

Time clocks for employees

Child care centers, to identify relatives

Child ID programs

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