First Union Corp.'s attempt to fingerprint some of its check-cashing customers is meeting with strenuous opposition from two Georgia lawmakers.
State Rep. Vernon Jones, a Democrat from Decatur, has introduced a bill in the Georgia General Assembly that would make it illegal for banks to require fingerprints to transact business.
A second bill, introduced by Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican from Marietta, would prohibit state agencies from conducting business with banks that fingerprint people.
Opponents claim the fingerprint identification program-which is used only if someone who doesn't have an account tries to cash a check at a branch of the $140 billion-asset company-treats people as if they've been arrested.
"You're being treated like you're a criminal," said Rep. Jones. The bank goes "too far to get the guilty, and you punish a lot of the innocents," he added.
First Union officials say the policy will help cut down on fraud by acting as a deterrent to illicit transactions.
The fingerprint policy, they pointed out, should not present a problem for honest people.
"We're not trying to impose on anyone's privacy," said David M. Carroll, president and chief executive officer of First Union National Bank of Georgia. "What we're trying to do is put a deterrent in place. Fraud is a very real and very big problem."
First Union is one of a growing number of financial companies using fingerprinting to prevent fraud, but it is the only bank in Georgia to do so. Banks and thrifts in at least 11 other states now require fingerprints for certain transactions. Moreover, fingerprinting is only one of several ways companies use personal characteristics to identify customers.
But many First Union competitors, noting the bad publicity it has received, have put off the question of whether to require fingerprinting.
"We try to institute measures that are more customer-friendly than that," said Jerri Franz, a spokeswoman with Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.
NationsBank Corp. reviewed fingerprinting but decided to try a different approach, said a spokesman, Fred Hannon.
This week it started a program under which it will cash checks of people without NationsBank accounts only inside branches, not in drive-through lanes. Tellers who are being trained in fraud detection will handle the transactions, Mr. Hannon said.
"This is our way of protecting the bank but at the same time being a little less invasive," he said.
First Union has asked Rep. Jones to withdraw his legislation, but he has refused and said he would organize a demonstration at the bank to protest fingerprinting.
Rep. Jones and his supporters have taken a series of actions to fight the bank on the issue.