The Bank May Require Your Fingerprints The Next Time You Cash a Check
You walk in to a bank to cash a check. The teller says, "not so fast, first we need to see your ID and fingerprint you."
You may think: Fingerprint me? I'm not a criminal! I'm not planning on returning and robbing this bank! I'm clean! Hey, I'm just trying to cash a legit check.
This scene isn't out of a futuristic movie and isn't some new big brother requirement under the Patriot Act—it's happening right now, it recently happened to Michele from Rhode Island.
Michele got a check from her auto insurance carrier and went to the bank the check was drawn on. Her plan was to get the cash that day to pay for her car repairs.
What she didn't bank on is the teller telling her since she didn't have an account at the bank, it would cost her six bucks and her fingerprints. Michele was shocked. "Having no other way to cash the check I complied after quite a fuss."
The teller told her it was a new procedure that began in September for security reasons. It's also happening at many banks across the country and it's legal because there's no rules that say banks can or can't do it. As the American Bankers Association (ABA) pointed out, the law is silent on this issue.
Doug Johnson, VP of risk management policy for the ABA says some banks have been requesting non-customer prints for years. "Stolen or forged checks often account for a significant portion of bank losses due to fraud, many banks of all sizes, both community-based banks and the largest institutions, have instituted thumbprint signature programs."
Banks are inundated with bad guys trying to pull a fast one with counterfeit checks. All those Nigerian schemes, fake foreign lottery checks and wire transfers for those stereo speakers you're selling-- where the buyer just happens to send you a bit more than your asking price and wants you to send a little back to him---and keep some extra cash for your troubles. Those are fake checks and the counterfeiters are so good even bank tellers can't tell. Once a scammer walks out of the bank, they're phantoms who leave behind a trail of trouble.
The fingerprinting gives banks extra safeguards. Johnson says police have caught countless crooks this way and it's a deterrent to the schemers. It also helps investigators track down people trying to cash stolen checks by forging signatures. "The bank, and law enforcement needs to properly identify the person cashing the check after the fact in order to prosecute them if they commit fraud."
Identity theft concerns
But what happens to YOUR identity and prints once your check is finally declared legit? Banks have their reasons why you should risk your manicure when your fingers take a roll in the ink, but is your personal information at risk too?
Michele is panicked. "Where are my rights for the protection of my security in this day and age of check fraud and passport fraud?"
Johnson insists no database of prints is maintained and they're just kept on file in case the check turns out to be a fake. "If a fingerprint was on the check and the check cleared, it would follow a check’s normal path through the bank. Banks hold onto all checks for a 'commercially reasonable' period of time. Many checks are scanned into systems now and the paper check is destroyed at some point after clearing. The electronic image would be held by that bank according to its records retention policy."
According to Johnson, eventually Michele's prints will be destroyed. And while she objects to this system, the ABA claims few customers refuse to provide the prints. So if a person really wants their money the same day, they're going to have to play by the banks rules.
And what about that $6.00 fee? The ABA says it's reasonable for banks to charge fees for service, and each bank decides what it should charge. But take a tip from Michele, she requested the fee be waived—and the bank did it.
By Mary Schwager