Fingerprinting Policies at Banks

Is getting your fingerprints put on a check at a bank if you’re not an account holder illegal? Does it violate a person’s privacy or civil liberties? The bank in question is Bank of America, which has had this policy for the past ten years to prevent check fraud and track down a criminal easier by asking for fingerprints from non-account holders asking to cash a check at a branch location. Customers who do have accounts at the bank wanting to cash a check aren’t fingerprinted. Bank of America, according to an article in the Nashua Telegraph, stores these fingerprints as electronic file images, although the bank itself doesn’t keep a searchable database of these images and doesn’t give any to a third party unless a check is suspected to be fraudulent. In addition, Bank of America tellers ask for two different forms of ID – typically a driver’s license and another form, such as a signed credit card or student ID – before asking for a fingerprint.

As stated in this article, some fear that the government, other than the FBI, could get these fingerprints or that someone could hack into Bank of America’s system, find the fingerprints, and commit identity theft. All of these are valid reasons for not wanting to cash a check with a bank that asks for fingerprints (other major or national banks do this, as well, for non-account holders wanting to cash a check at the bank), but, at the same time, the policy is much like getting fingerprinted for a background check to have a thorough picture of a person’s criminal history.

If non-account holders were not asked for ID and fingerprints, how would a fraudulent check be tracked down? Identification cards can be forged – ask any fake ID service making 21+ IDs for teenagers – but fingerprints cannot. And, in many cases, a person cashing someone else’s check probably has a criminal history of financial fraud-related or other crimes. Although this practice may leave others feeling like criminals, catching an actual criminal suspected of check fraud or identity theft by the help of fingerprints is easier than with no other identification methods.