The militia mentality has made its way into bank lobbies.
At several banks in recent months, potential customers have refused to divulge their Social Security numbers or ZIP codes when opening an account, saying they have a right not to give out the information.
Bank security expert Barbara Hurst said she has heard from three banks, two in the East and one in the Midwest, that have encountered such unhelpful customers. She said the banks asked her not to identify them.
In each case, the would-be customers used identical documents to support their arguments for withholding the numbers. The documents apparently had their origins among anti-government supporters of the right-wing militia movement, according to bank security sources.
One of the documents, which says it is reprinted from '"Freedom League,' Jan. 1984," contends that the Privacy Act of 1974 bans banks from demanding Social Security numbers from customers.
"Should a right, benefit, or privilege be denied you when you decline to provide your Social Security number," the handout states, "you may file suit and are guaranteed to win a judgment of 1,000 Federal Reserve notes, plus costs and attorney's fees." (Federal Reserve notes, a seldom-used form of paper money, are issued in denominations of $1 to $100.)
The second sheet, labeled "Vol. I, No. 6," states that providing a ZIP code is voluntary, and that without your ZIP code, the Internal Revenue Service does not have "jurisdiction to send you notices." It also blasts "so-called patriot groups" - a name many militias use to describe themselves - that use ZIP codes to send fund-raising letters.
"The exact same document was handed to each one of the banks, so whoever it was, was organized enough to hand the same pieces of paper out," said Ms. Hurst.
The documents aren't right about the law, however. Banks are required to get Social Security numbers from customers opening an interest-bearing account, and have the right to demand Social Security numbers for other accounts, said Boris Melnikoff, senior vice president and director of security for Wachovia Corp. Banks also aren't prohibited by any law from demanding a ZIP code from customers.