Merchant Risk Council Holds Fraud Prevention Conference

The Merchant Risk Council (MRC), a retail industry association dedicated to preventing online fraud and promoting secure e-commerce, will hold its fifth annual conference, March 12-15, 2007, at the Wynn Las Vegas.

The conference, which touts the theme “Partners for Change: Strengthening Risk Management,” will attract CFOs and risk-management professionals from the retail industry, e-commerce payment and risk-management vendors, credit-card and alternative-payment company representatives and law-enforcement professionals.

During the conference, MRC will reveal its new strategy and attendees will have an opportunity to meet MRC’s first executive director, Tom Donlea.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of the MRC as we expand our capabilities, become a global thought leader, increase consumers’ trust in our merchants, and create a safe forum for our constituents to address issues and risk,” Donlea said.

The conference will also feature breakout sessions that will focus on three tracks: global issues, security and authentication, and tools and solutions.

For more information on the conference agenda, visit the MRC Web site,

Wal-Mart Accepts FSA Debit Cards

In an effort to boost its health-care and banking services, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., has launched a solution that enables its shoppers to use flexible spending account (FSA) debit cards at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations to pay for health-care or dependent-care merchandise.

An FSA is an employer-sponsored benefit plan that allows associates to withhold a portion of their paycheck to pay for approved healthcare expenses on a pre-tax basis. Wal-Mart’s Inventory Information Approval System (IIAS) will allow customers to pay for FSA-eligible health-care merchandise with an FSA debit card.

As items are scanned during checkout, IIAS automatically identifies FSA-eligible merchandise based on their unique identifying number. (Receipts also divvy up totals for both FSA and non-FSA merchandise.) Customers swipe their FSA card at the debit reader and then pay for the non-FSA merchandise with another form of payment.

“The system will be seamless for customers,” Alberto L. Dominguez, director of third-party administration for Wal-Mart Pharmacy, said in a release. “It maintains a list of approved health-care merchandise so customers will no longer have to separate merchandise at checkout or wonder what is eligible for payment.”

Participating Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores feature a variety of eligible merchandise ranging from prescription glasses to over-the-counter cold, flu and allergy products, Dominguez said.

Contactless-Equipment Spending On the Rise

Thanks to growing adoption across card associations, banks, wireless operators, and of course, retailers, spending on contactless payments hardware and software is expected to reach $870 million by 2011, up from a mere $260 million in 2006. This equates to a compound annual growth rate of 27%, according to the “RFID Contactless Payments” study released by ABI Research, Oyster Bay, N.Y.

ABI’s report examines the trends driving contactless-payment adoption, regional deployment patterns, the value of the market, and the business and technological issues that still have to be resolved. It includes analysis of contactless-payment adoption in a selection of key merchant categories and applications.

Contactless-payment adoption is taking place at varying rates across regions, and for different reasons. “Open-system payments are driving contactless adoption in North America,” said ABI’s senior analyst Jonathan Collins. “In Europe, contactless ticketing systems are spurring interest in contactless payments.”

However, contactless technology is making the greatest headway in Japan and South Korea, according to the study.

“Built on the foundations of contactless transportation ticketing, and an additional boost from contactless payment-enabled mobile handsets, these markets are exploiting the potential for contactless payments,” Collins noted.

While mobile handsets will continue to develop and enable contactless payments, there is an ongoing debate over how payment applications will be deployed and managed on wireless handsets. This dispute has even delayed the rollout of mobile devices in the United States and Europe, the study revealed.

Once these technology and business issues are resolved, and consumers grow increasingly confident with the security of contactless payments, the industry will see more installations of open mobile systems, the study predicted.