American Express Tests the Biometrics Waters

Select American Express members to be the first to try pilot program that uses facial and fingerprint recognition for online checkout.

A man holds a credit card in one hand while he looks at a tablet in the other.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

American Express is adding facial and fingerprint recognition to its SafeKey technology via a new pilot program aimed at preventing fraud in the online checkout process.

The company says it is the first card issuer to offer the biometric feature. When using a device that supports facial or fingerprint recognition, select U.S. card members that checkout with SafeKey will be prompted to enable the biometrics, the company said in a statement.

Only a select number of U.S. cardholders will initially be eligible for the pilot program, which is set to be rolled out to all U.S. cardholders in early 2024, American Express said.

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SafeKey is the company’s technology that works in the background during online checkout to make sure it’s really you using your card. If it has questions about that, it will ask you to confirm that it’s you with a code or app notification — and now, if you're an eligible cardholder, a facial or fingerprint ID.

“Now, checking out safely and securely is as easy as unlocking your phone,” said J.J. Kieley, vice president of Digital Identity & Commerce Experiences at American Express. “SafeKey’s biometric facial and fingerprint recognition minimizes friction while maximizing security for our card members at checkout. It’s how we check in when you checkout.”

The growing issue of online scams

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scams cost U.S. consumers $8.8 billion in 2022, a 30% increase from the $6.1 billion lost in 2021. The agency said it received the second-highest number of fraud complaints regarding online shopping scams last year, with total losses exceeding $358 million.

Experts warn that, to protect your information, be skeptical of online shopping sites with suspiciously low prices or negative online reviews. If possible, enable all the security features available on your financial accounts, such as two-factor authentication and other technologies.

Biometric authentication is one way that companies including tech giants such as Amazon’s Whole Foods, Apple and Google are experimenting with to improve online security. But the technology itself also raises privacy and data security concerns, which the FTC has also warned about.

Earlier this year, those concerns led to new legislation introduced in the House and Senate by a group of lawmakers who are seeking a moratorium on biometric surveillance systems by federal, state and local governments. At present, the legislation is still pending in committees at both chambers.

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Joey Solitro

Joey Solitro is a freelance financial journalist at Kiplinger with more than a decade of experience. A longtime equity analyst, Joey has covered a range of industries for media outlets including The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Market Realist, and TipRanks. Joey holds a bachelor's degree in business administration.