Electronic banking networks across the country are taking advantage of a recent regulatory change meant to help them combat fraud at automated teller machines.

Both national networks and many regional networks are mandating that bank members print only part of the cardholders' account number on an ATM receipt.

The changes come after a Federal Reserve Board ruling in March dropping the requirement that banks include a customer's entire account number on an ATM receipt.

The Fed acted in response to complaints that criminals were "shoulder surfing" at ATMs to learn customers' personal identification numbers.

The PIN number isn't much use, though, without the corresponding account number - which a shoulder-surfer can get from a discarded receipt. The account number can be coded onto a counterfeit card, which then can be used with the PIN.

But if the bank shortens the account number, the theory goes, criminals would be foiled.

"It's usually a very simple change to make," said Steve VanFleet, senior vice president of global debit at MasterCard International. "It's just a question of changing the software code that dictates what's printed on the receipt. It presents no hardship to the bank at all."

Cirrus System Inc., MasterCard's global ATM network, announced that by next Jan. 1 all participating ATMs must print receipts that truncate the customer's account number.

Visa International's Plus network will have a similar rule going into effect at the beginning of 1996.

Several of the regional networks in the West, where shoulder surfing has been a particular problem, are encouraging the truncation policy immediately.

Honor, the dominant network in the big tourist state of Florida, will also mandate truncation by Jan. 1.

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