Tactics for avoiding the thumbprint-for-cash request

By Julie Rains on 28 August 2007 21 comments
Photo: Franco Folini

Does providing a thumbprint or fingerprint to cash an honestly-received check make you feel like a criminal? The practice adopted by many U.S. banks to protect itself and its customers from fraud, though understandable from a loss prevention perspective, makes me uneasy. Being asked to place my very personal identification on the face of a check just because I don’t have account with that particular bank is disturbing but, typically, my standard business and banking procedures have allowed me to avoid being printed. Recently, though, I’ve had to take a more proactive approach through insight I’ve gained from a banking regulator.

If you’ve been asked to place your print on the face of a check, you may not have been bothered at all, may have been in a rush and not considered the privacy concern, may have been annoyed but complied to get your money, may have protested but received a stubborn refusal to make a rule exception, or were so outraged that you left the bank still holding the check. The what-seems-to-be-simple solution is to deposit the check with your own bank and let it clear through the normal settlement process. The problem, for many honest citizens with valid bank accounts, is that if the check is returned for non-sufficient funds and is then presented for collection (my former way of doing business), the thumbprint rule still applies.

Okay, the customer may have had a bad account-balancing day (bothersome but forgivable) or he/she could have intentionally written a check with non-sufficient funds (a criminal act in some states). So, the fact that the customer’s bank insists on capturing, digitally storing, and sending an honorable person’s thumbprint (possibly via a returned check or image of the check) to such a customer is upsetting.

All banks that operate legally in the United States have state or federal charters, and must abide by state or federal regulations. So I called a state bank regulator and visited the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) website to see what I could learn about the thumbprint/fingerprint rule. Apparently, the practice is not prohibited so banks can adopt the requirement as a rule. And, according to an OCC report (PDF), Check Fraud: a guide to avoiding losses, “any financial institution that implements this type of plan should adopt procedures to ensure that it is not applied on a selective basis” (bolded by OCC, not me), meaning that protests will make no difference. An outraged person in the teller line is preferable than accusations of profiling.

My bank regulator did advise me, however, that honest citizens are not defenseless. Just as banks can set their rules, so can merchants and service providers, who can make a rule not to accept checks written on accounts from these fraud-averse banks. So, here are tactics to avoid being printed if you so choose:

  • Identify banks with thumbprint policies and do not accept checks written on accounts associated with these banks.  Accept payments in the form of cash, checks drawn on other banks, money orders, cashier’s checks, debit cards, credit cards, or PayPal authorization. 
  • If you happen to accept a check drawn on a print-insistent bank, determine if the account is valid and there are sufficient funds to cover the check by calling the bank’s merchant check verification line (listed in the white pages), and providing the checking account number and the check amount. If yes (funds are available), deposit the check at your bank and hope that by the time your check is presented, funds will still be available. Since check clearing and settlement times may take 3-6 days, this solution is not foolproof but could be useful.
  • Contact the customer who presented a check with non-sufficient funds and request payment.

Alternatively, you could contact your congressperson and ask for a change in regulations.

0
No votes yet
Your rating: None
ShareThis

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


Guest's picture

Interesting. I think that first tip will be the most effective one. Unfortunately, I think we are beginning to get exhausted from merely trying to identify which one of our civil liberties to defend first. Good post.

Guest's picture
Evelyn

When one deposits a check in the bank and it isn't good, my bank charges a $10.00 fee because I deposited a bad check. In addition, they automatically run it a second time. If it clears the 2nd time....try getting that $10 banking fee from the customer....ya right.

Guest's picture

When I first moved to Austin, TX 7 years ago and went to transfer my driver's license, I was shocked to find out that thumb prints were required. I complained, but the clerk didn't seem to care.

Guest's picture
Guest

They can take a picture of your face but not of your finger?

Julie Rains's picture

I think the concern is about how information is stored and for what purpose; and yes, anything different makes us consider and reconsider privacy concerns. My state started asking for SSNs even though that information is not to be used for identification purposes (my first SSN card says that anyway); after the law was passed allowing the information to be collected and I went to get my license renewed, the examiner said that I didn't have to give out the information but she would take it if given.

As far as the photo and thumbprint, is the digital image stored forever or just printed on your license?

On the other extreme, when I moved to another state years ago, no photos were required for temporary driver's licenses and these licenses were considered proof of identification. 

Guest's picture
Oxanna

Of course, you could also just directly deposit the check to one of your bank's ATM's, too.

Julie Rains's picture

You could deposit the check via ATM but if the check is bad, you'll end up getting the check back and having to collect the money. That the thumbprint banks don't consider the scenario of bad checks is my main gripe.

Guest's picture
Guest

Huntington Bank and BBT bank use thumbprints Avoid using these banks.

Guest's picture
Guest

I always just put a thumbprint on but move my thumb around so there's just a blurry blotch on the check. The clerk never cares.

Guest's picture
Evelyn

I also complained to the bank manager about the unsanitary nature of the ink pad. Some strangers before me put their thumb on the pad and for all I know they just pulled their thumb out of their butt. I would rather spit on the check so they could get my DNA.

I asked for a sanitary wipe and some sanitizing gell.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the clever tip and wish I had thought of that before! I still hate the idea of the thumbprint but, depending on the situation, could comply with the rules but not really.

Guest's picture
food and bev in LV

I've worked in clubs and casino's in vegas and we've used thumb or finger print for credit card purchuses for a long time 10 years or more.If your in public your on camra, I guess i've wrote off privcy freedoms already.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's just a thumbprint and it's not private at all! everyone leaves their thumbprints everywhere. It's not personal. If your concerned of privacy issues of thumbprints, how bout being concern about facial features as well.... we might as well walk around with a paper bag on our heads.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's just a thumbprint and it's not private at all! everyone leaves their thumbprints everywhere. It's not personal. If your concerned of privacy issues of thumbprints, how bout being concern about facial features as well.... we might as well walk around with a paper bag on our heads.

Guest's picture
Evelyn

It's about being treated like a criminal!

Julie Rains's picture

We may leave our thumbprints everywhere but they are not usually tied to our names, addresses, and possibly SSN's and driver's license numbers.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why are so many people unconcerned about privacy and the assualt on our freedoms as Americans?

Guest's picture
Guest

Lasalle Bank AKA Bank of America

Today, after many month of unemployment I went to cash my first, very sweated pay check, just to find out that they refused to cash it if I did not give them my thumb print and refuse as well to give me a written reason to why they couldn't cash it, and I am furious!!!
How is it that so many people accept things like this, with out a ...
Or what about the service of a bank...

Guest's picture
Bruce

I just encountered this problem with BofA and had no idea anyone did this. Having just finished a contract with Wachovia and still having my badge, I waived it around and said that I knew that this wasn't required by the Govt. Didn't do any good...I got a funds verification while I was there and left since I was in a hurry.

I found this post after googling "thumbprint cash check".

Guest's picture
Bruce

of course I meant "waved" it about.

Guest's picture
Evelyn

I put up with it for years and finally confronted the bank manager to no avail. So, I opened an account with $50 and promptly withdrew $49. This Wachovia bank has free checking with no minimum balance and today had a promotion if someone referred me to Wachovia that had an account I would get a Visa gift card of $25 and so would the friend who referred me.

I wasted their time by reading all the 12 pages or so agreement asking questions (it rained all day). I found that I need to keep the account for 6 months or pay a fee for closing the account and that after one year of an inactive account a fee of $5 month takes affect. So I will close the account after 11 months....then open a new one. Hopefully, they will offer another incentive for opening an account.

My name is Evelyn Roebuck in Columbus, GA. If anyone wants to open an account at Wachovia Bank say I referred you and you and I will get a $25 gift certificate.