Three trade groups in Oregon have banded together in an effort to use fingerprints to combat check fraud.

Member institutions of the Oregon State Bankers Association, the Oregon Credit Union League, and the Oregon League of Financial Institutions have begun taking thumbprints of noncustomers who request check-cashing services.

Using an inkless device that leaves no significant stain or residue, thumbprints are placed on the face of the check to be cashed, in between the memo line and signature line.

In cases where check fraud is suspected, the thumbprint can be forwarded to the police for investigation. Participating financial institutions do not maintain a data base of fingerprints, and only those customers without accounts are fingerprinted.

Several states - including Texas, Nevada, and Arizona - have begun similar programs, with some success. For example, financial institutions participating in a pilot program in Nevada reduced their check fraud losses by 42%. Only 345 of 56,000 noncustomers trying to cash checks declined to be fingerprinted.

"For some time, both federal and state law enforcement authorities have encouraged financial institutions to identify loss prevention policies and procedures that could be implemented without inconvenience to their current customers, and this program is consistent with that objective," said Diane Ness, who heads the Financial Institutions Security Task Force in Oregon.

Check fraud has grown in recent years, according to trade groups that track fraud. Though no figures were available for Oregon, annual check fraud losses at banks nationwide are said to exceed $1 billion.

Bank officials link much of the fraud to desktop check printing related technologies.

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