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Posted on Sat, Aug. 31, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Police ask stores to take fingerprints

Special to the Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON - Police are asking businesses to voluntarily participate in a program to take customers' fingerprints if they pay by check.

Operation Thumbs Up, scheduled to begin citywide Sunday, aims to help authorities identify check theft and forgery by obtaining a source of identification that can't be stolen or faked - fingerprints. The system is similar to those used by banks that require fingerprints on checks.

"No longer can we rely on the driver's license as a valid form of identity when passing a check," Detective Kyle Gibson said. "We can't expect clerks to memorize every face in a line. By getting a print, we can place that person when the check was passed to get a successful prosecution."

The program was announced Friday. Police spokeswoman Christy Gilfour said the department is considering making the program mandatory.

Participating stores will be clearly identified to the public. Employees will be trained to take fingerprints. A series of town hall meetings will be scheduled to explain the program to business owners and the community. Wes Jurey, president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said the organization will help make Arlington's 10,000 store owners aware of the program's benefits over the coming weeks. Jurey said there has been no adverse reaction from business owners he has talked to about the program.

"I think most people are not aware of how easy it would be for a person to come into a store, open an account with another person's identity, charge a large amount of merchandise and return it. Then the merchant has a problem," Jurey said.

Alan Levy, chief of the criminal division of the Tarrant County district attorney's office, said having a fingerprint means "there won't be any question about who passed the check" and will save prosecutors time litigating fraud cases.

Police said Arlington has had an increase in check fraud during the past three years. From 1999 to July 2002, detectives worked 8,463 forged check cases resulting in $1.7 million in losses to merchants, according to police records. In most of these cases, detectives have no suspects because fraudulent identification was used, Sgt. James Crouch said.

Police said fingerprinting systems are inexpensive compared to merchandise loss and will help keep prices down for the consumer. Systems will cost businesses between $2 and $40 a month to operate, Gibson said. Businesses will purchase the type of system they want to use.

The systems range from an inkless pad in which the chemical easily rubs off the skin, to an electronic sensor that compares a customer's print to a pre-scanned fingerprint, Crouch said. Another system involves a clear chemical that leaves a blue imprint when pressed onto a chemical-sensitive sticker that is usually placed onto the back of a check.

Police assured they will only see prints when a business submits a forged check for investigation, Crouch said. The print will then be checked against others in a statewide criminal fingerprint database.

Pam Dawson, property manager for the Lincoln Square shopping center, said seven stores have participated in the program since March, and she expects all 88 stores in the center to comply.

"Our goal is to show we are a safe shopping center," she said. "If you are a fraudulent check user, we don't want you to come to Lincoln Square."

Dawson doesn't expect complaints from customers.

"I anticipate if you are not guilty of anything, it's not going to matter to you if someone takes your thumbprint," she said.

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