Spokane residents soon will need more than a pen to write a check at the grocery store.
Beginning Aug. 1, clerks at five major grocery chains will require customers paying by check to show current identification.
The new rules apply only at Washington stores. People buying groceries at stores in Idaho won’t necessarily have to present identification, store managers said.
The identification requirement in Spokane is a joint effort by the grocers and law enforcement to reduce check fraud, a crime currently flourishing in Spokane County.
Authorities estimate more than $1 million in stolen or fake checks is passed in the Spokane area each month.
“The biggest amount of the loss comes from the grocery stores,” sheriff’s Sgt. Gary Smith said Wednesday.
Everyone feels the effect of the crime, whether they know it or not, authorities said.
Grocery stores make up the lost money by raising prices.
Police say car and house break-ins increase as burglars and drug addicts look for an easy way to pass bad checks. Detectives complain they are forced to let other crimes go while they investigate check-fraud cases.
The number of fraudulent checks cashed annually in the unincorporated area of the county quadrupled between 1994 and 1995 - from 350 to nearly 1,500 - according to Sheriff’s Department figures. The city saw a similar increase.
Asking for identification - a rare practice at Spokane grocery stores - is a simple way to combat the problem, detectives said.
“Any check that is checked will help reduce the loss to our community,” Smith said.
Only valid driver’s licenses, state or military ID cards and passports will be accepted.
So far, Albertson’s, Rosauers, Super 1, Tidyman’s and Yokes Pac ‘N Save are joining the program. Safeway already requires check writers to provide identification.
Police Detective Cheryl Graves said authorities hope other retailers will join the program.
ID-checking is only the start of the crackdown. Soon, merchants may begin requiring check-paying customers to have their thumb print taken, too.
The thumb print, which would go on the check, would serve as a deterrant and make it easier to track down criminals writing fraudulent checks, detectives said.
Jim Hansen, security director for Spokane-area Rosauers stores, said increased vigilance is the way of the future, even if it means more time in checkout lines.
“It may be an inconvenience, but just try to get used to it,” Hansen said. “We’re just trying to make it better for everybody.”