Calling your bank? Be prepared to have your voice biometrics collected

By Melissa Locker

The other day, I had to do the unthinkable and actually pick up the phone to make a call (shudder). I was having trouble booking a hotel room online and figured that my credit card company, Chase, was doubting my desire to go to Calgary in February and had flagged the purchase as potential fraud. While we all appreciate it when our credit card company prevents fraud (I will forever be grateful to Amex for noting that I would never spend $2,000 on televisions at a Walmart in Mississippi), it is annoying when they block real purchases and force you to pick up the phone and speak into it.

But as it turns out, doing admin on the phone isn’t just an annoyance these days. It’s also a way to prevent fraud through voice biometrics.

In Chase’s case, the biometric program was announced back in April, but there’s a good chance many customers missed the announcement. (I missed it, and I actually write about these topics for a living.) Now, when you call Chase, an automated recording informs you that your voice is being used to identify you in the hopes of preventing fraud. Pick up the phone and you’re being recorded to make a “voice print,” which, according to Chase’s website, “is created from more than 100 different physical and behavioral characteristics such as pitch, accent, shape of your mouth, and vocal tract as you speak with a customer service representative.” (What happens if some identity-thieving criminal calls first is still TBD.) Once your voiceprint is created, Chase will use it the next time you call to “quickly verify it’s you.”

Chase claims Voice ID will heighten customer security while letting customers skip the rigamarole of remembering their favorite elementary school teacher’s first pet’s name or answering other security questions in public forums. As for the security of your Voice ID print, Chase claims that your voiceprint is securely stored as a mathematical equation. Plus, according to Chase, it can only be used to verify your Chase account.

But Chase isn’t just amassing data on its customers. It’s also collecting intel on known fraudsters for so-called “voice biometric blacklists,” which keep tabs on identity thieves and credit card scammers and prevent them from accessing bank information or requesting new credit cards. This is in addition to the biometric databases being built by prisons.

Of course, it’s not just JPMorgan Chase & Co. using the technology. According to the Associated Press, Wells Fargo, Barclays, and U.S. Bancorp all use some form of Voice ID. In 2017, Pindrop, a company that offers sound-based fraud detection tools to call centers, told Fast Company it worked with eight of the top 10 U.S. banks and two of the top 5 insurers to detect phone scams.

The likelihood that you’ve had your voice’s unique biometric signature recorded are pretty high: An AP survey of 10 leading voice biometric vendors found that more than 65 million people worldwide have had their voiceprints taken. That survey was in 2014, and it has undoubtedly skyrocketed since then, especially as artificial intelligence-fueled fraud prevention improves.

While Voice ID is convenient and for the good of your account, it’s still a bit unsettling to know that you’re being recorded and monitored. And it’s a bit tricky to opt out, at least in Chase’s case. According to a representative, the only way to opt out of the program is to “let the customer service representative that you’re speaking with know that you don’t want to participate.”

What happens then? If you’ve opted out, your Voice ID will no longer be used, but every time you call Chase, you will continue to hear the message. So you may want to confirm with the customer service representative that you are, in fact, not being recorded. A little verbal acknowledgement goes a long way.

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