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Sound Payments’ St. Pete office chips away at fraud at the gas pump

Margie Manning

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Jan. 28 Ribbon-cutting ceremony at Sound Payments St. Petersburg office included (from left), Mayor Rick Kriseman, Sound Payments President Andrew Russell, Florida Department of Agriculture External Affairs Director Stephanie McClung, St. Petersburg Area EDC President J.P. DuBuque, and Sound Payments Senior VP Bill Pittman.

A Florida company with technology designed to stop payment fraud at the gas station pump has opened a St. Petersburg office and plans to hire dozens of people over the next couple of years.

The St. Pete office for Sound Payments will support sales and operations for the company’s Petro Solutions division. The division has developed a product that enables gas station pumps to accept smart payment cards with electronic chips that are inserted into a card reader, in addition to magnetic stripes that are swiped. The technology eliminates fraud and blocks skimmers, or malicious card readers that harvest data from a payment card.

Sound Payments President Andrew Russell and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman

“When you go to fill up your tank, to know that it’s their technology that will make sure that the information that you are using to pay remains secure, that’s a big deal,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the new office. “In this day where it seems like our information gets taken so easily, to know that there are companies out here, especially ones in St. Petersburg, that are making all of us safer and making the resources we’ve worked hard for safer.”

Sound Payments is hiring 20 people this year for the St. Petersburg office, including developers, sales and implementation specialists, said Andrew Russell, president. Next year, the company plans to hire 50 to 70 people locally.

The local talent pool, including people with both payments and petroleum experience, was a key factor in opening the St. Pete office, Russell said. Other factors were the presence of Tampa International Airport, providing easy access for clients, and Port Tampa Bay, allowing the company to import needed parts, as well as the business ambiance in the community.

Sound Payments aligns perfectly with the city’s Grow Smarter strategy, designed to attract and retain businesses in five sectors, including financial services, data analytics and specialized manufacturing.

“Sound Payments is right in the middle of what we want to grow here,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. “You joined us for all the right reasons — the talent is good, the business environment is great, and because there is something to be said for palm trees and sunshine.”

Disruptive technology

Most retailers have been using chip card technology – dubbed EMV, for Europay, Mastercard and Visa — since 2015, when retailers, instead of banks, became liable for payment fraud.

Robyn England, implementation specialist, demonstrates Sound Payments’ technology.

Gas stations are among the last retailers to incorporate the technology into their point of sale systems, in part because labor and costs associated with the updates can be extensive, according to CardConnect, a payments platform. Those gas stations are now facing an October 2020 deadline to accept EMV cards.

“What we’ve done is provided a low-cost, easy, totally disruptive technology into this space, to be able to upgrade the stations without having to replace the pumps, without having to tear up concrete or do all the things that traditionally had to be done to create EMV at a fraction of the cost,” said Bill Pittman, senior vice president for Petro Solutions.

Chip reader terminals reduce counterfeit fraud because they block skimming devices, or malicious card readers that harvest data from a payment card.

“We don’t take the data through the pump. We go directly to the payment processor, so we’ve got a much more secure solution,” Pittman said.

Gas pump skimmers are a growing problem in Florida, said Stephanie McClung, external affairs director for the Florida Department of Agriculture, headed by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“One of her top commitments and priorities has been gas pump skimmers,” McClung said. “Skimmers are a growing problem and our department has removed about 3,900 skimmers in the past three years, 1,500 in the last year alone. She will continue to make this her No. 1 priority.”

EMV Easy Pump enables EMV at the pump and supports QR code scanning, PIN-on-glass, MSR, EMV chip and PIN, NFC for Apple Pay and Google Pay, bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and includes a built-in security camera, a news release from Sound Payments said. It’s installed with a retrofit kit, eliminating the need to purchase new pumps and close stations for several weeks for installation, and the platform is flexible to support future innovations.

In addition to its Petro Solutions division, Sound Payments, headquartered in Jacksonville, has other payments and banking technology products.

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