Thursday, July 30, 2009

Welcome! Fingerprint, Please

A number of banks, including Bank of America, according to several published reports, require a fingerprint before they will cash a check for a non-accountholder. In fact, the Georgia Bankers Association has a program to deter check fraud by offering thumbprint devices to its members.

Fingerprinting to avoid check fraud is nothing new. In the mid-1970s, I worked in a Massachusetts clothing store that required any customer paying by check to put a print (using an inkless fingerprinting system) on the back of the check. This wasn't the store's only anti-fraud policy. At one time, the checkwriter had to be photographed in front of equipment that simultaneously captured the check and the writer's face. Clearly, simply asking for two pieces of ID plus a phone number wasn't working well enough.

The 99.9% of shoppers who were honest were understandably unhappy--even outraged. I heard a lot of complaints (sometimes very loud and angry) from loyal customers. But a policy is a policy. In banking, the GA Bankers Assn points out that for legal reasons, institutions that use this system must fingerprint all non-customers, or they may leave themselves open to charges of discrimination.

Check fraud is a serious, expensive problem, no question. And we, the public, ultimately pay the price for losses from bad checks, in the form of higher bank fees and higher store prices.

But as a potential customer, who wants to do business with a local bank or store that requires a fingerprint? For that matter, who wants to be the employee or manager who has to do the fingerprinting (and possibly meet the fingerprinted person later, in a local restaurant or in church)? This is not a good way to welcome legitimate customers, who might very well be shopping around for a new bank or store. Good morning, fingerprint please, thank you for doing business with us?

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