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Banks Plan To Require Thumbprint New Policy Intended To Deter Attempts To Cash Bad Checks

Washington banks will soon be turning thumbs down on any non-customers who want to cash checks.

Starting Sept. 16, U.S. Bank of Washington and KeyBank will require non-customers who submit checks for cashing to place their thumbprint on the back before receiving any money.

Officials from other banks said they will adopt similar policies in upcoming months, after customer-education efforts and the completion of trials in other states.

“Thumbprint signatures will help protect our customers from fraud by serving as a deterrent for thieves who attempt to cash stolen or forged checks drawn on U.S. Bank,” said Vice President Doug Kidder.

The American Bankers Association says check fraud cost the industry $815 million in 1993.

In states where thumbprints are being taken, loss rates have plummeted 40 percent to 80 percent, the Washington Bankers Association says.

U.S. Bank is among the institutions that have tried the thumbprinting elsewhere. Although Kidder said it is too early to determine how successful the program has been, he said bank customers are not put off by the policy.

“It’s almost like a non-event,” he said.

Kidder added that the inkpads used for printing cost only about $120 per branch - cheap compared with the losses that might be avoided.

The ink does not leave any residue on the hand or clothing, he said.

John Weber, Washington Trust vice president, is a member of the Washington Bankers Association committee coordinating the thumbprint program in the state.

The Spokane bank will institute thumbprinting by the end of the year, he said.

Weber said thumbprinting has become necessary as thieves and forgers have compromised drivers licenses and other forms of identification.

He stressed that thumbprints will not be retained in any database. They will be used only when found on a check cashed fraudulently.

“It’s not like a big brother thing,” agreed Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Unger.

He said that institution and recently acquired First Interstate Bank will start the print program Nov. 1. In other states where it is already in place, he said, “It’s done a lot to cut down on check fraud.”

If the banks discourage the paper-hangers, check-cashing services will be ready for them.

In fact, a manager at Check-X-Change in Spokane who did not want to be identified said her company’s security measures are superior to those used by the banks.

“We’ve been way ahead,” she said. “We’re very thorough.”

, DataTimes