Photos and fingerprints are immediate ways to confirm identity, and MasterCard Inc. is transforming them into mobile ways to pay.

When a consumer is transacting on a mobile site or app and a bank needs to confirm her identity, instead of entering a password a new feature called MasterCard Identity Check asks her to take a selfie or scan her fingerprint to check out with her MasterCard.

MasterCard is piloting its identity check and biometrics technology with several financial institutions. An employee test involves about 200 U.S. and Canada corporate cardholders at BMO Financial Group, says Dennis Gamiello, vice president, of identity solutions at MasterCard. MasterCard also is conducting a pilot with 700 consumers at Dutch credit card provider International Card Service, and a pilot with simulated transactions with First Tech Federal Credit Union.

MasterCard’s technology is designed to work on top of online payment security protocol 3-D Secure, which ties a consumer’s credit or debit card to an online password that she enters when she checks out. Thousands of online merchants in the U.S. use this system, and hundreds of thousands of merchants use it globally, Gamiello says. Travel sites and online retailers are among the businesses most likely to offer this layer of authentication, he says.

When a consumer enrolls in the MasterCard Identity Check program through her bank, she takes a photo of herself so the facial recognition software has a photo for comparison. If the consumer has a fingerprint saved on her device that she uses for unlocking it or authentication for other apps, she confirms this fingerprint during the enrollment process. During enrollment, the program also identifies the device the consumer is using.


When a consumer submits a mobile payment, a MasterCard pop-up appears displaying the total, the consumer taps to confirm the price and then chooses whether to confirm by fingerprint or photo. The system uses fingerprint scanning technology built into the mobile device to immediately confirm payment or a window appears for the consumer to frame her face and snap a selfie. It instructs the user to blink once as the photo is taken—a security work-around intended to prevent someone from holding up a printed photograph of the card holder and fraudulently authorizing a payment, Gamiello says.

MasterCard’s biometric identification confirms the consumer has the correct fingerprint or photo, and that she is on the same device that she was on when she enrolled in the program, Gamiello says. Overall, the system is more secure than entering a password, he says.

“Passwords are what you know, and we’ve moved beyond that to focus on what you have and who you are,” Gamiello says.

Since the fall, when some of the pilots started, MasterCard has not had any fraudulent activity slip through the new system, Gamiello says. However, he would not disclose how many attempts were made to get past the system nor how many transactions it blocked.


Fingerprint ID has been used more than selfies in the pilots, likely because there is more consumer awareness around fingerprint ID than facial recognition ID, Gamiello says. However, MasterCard offers facial recognition because most smartphones have a camera, and not every smartphone has fingerprint scanning technology, Gamiello says. For instance, only 7.5% of Android devices run Marshmallow, the newest Android OS, which has fingerprint authentication technology.

“Our strategy is to have a ubiquitous solution,” he says.

Using a fingerprint to check out is a few seconds faster than entering a password, he says. The selfie can be faster, depending on how quickly a consumer completes it. The other benefit of biometrics is that a consumer does not have to remember her password.

MasterCard would not disclose what it invested in this technology. The credit card company wants to continue rolling out the system in conjunction with banks, and plans to announce more financial institutions piloting the technology in the summer, Gamiello says.