Originally created 09/06/97

Food Lion to drop finger signature policy



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - After meeting with NAACP officials, Food Lion agreed to stop requiring "finger signatures" before cashing government checks at its stores, a spokeswoman for the supermarket chain said Friday.

However, the Salisbury-based chain will continue to require a fingerprint before cashing payroll checks, said Food Lion spokeswoman Chris Ahearn.

The policy change, which takes effect chain-wide Monday, originated from a meeting Thursday between Food Lion officials and leaders with the civil rights organization from Robeson County.

"They were concerned we were targeting low-income neighborhoods," Ahearn said. "We showed them that was not the case. There's as much payroll check fraud in stores in middle- and high-income neighborhoods."

The Rev. Franklin D. Bowden Jr., president of the Unified Robeson County NAACP, praised Food Lion for listening to his group's concerns.

"The negotiations were quite amicable," he said. "Food Lion admits that they had not considered the impact on the poor and working poor with regard to government checks when they implemented this policy."

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People does not have a problem with Food Lion requiring a fingerprint before cashing payroll checks because customers can cash them at the bank that issued them, Bowden said.

"If they go to Food Lion and are fingerprinted, it is wholly their choice," he said. "That is not the case for many recipients of government checks who cannot afford the fees of a checking account."

The so-called "Crime Bite Authentiprint" system was tested at Food Lion stores in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, where the company said it reduced check fraud by more than 30 percent.

The policy will expand to stores in several South Carolina cities on Monday. The stores will follow the revised policy, she said, as will those stores in other states as the program continues to expand.

Food Lion has 1,200 stores in 14 states.

Under the program, a customer who wants to cash a check must offer up an index finger for printing. The store then will process the check in the usual manner, but if it bounces, the fingerprint will be sent to law enforcement officers, who could try matching it against a national crime database.

"It's more of a deterrent effect than anything else," said Ahearn. "Somebody who wants to do it (commit fraud) doesn't want to leave their fingerprint, so they don't come into the stores."

The NAACP leaders listened to Food Lion's rationale for keeping the fingerprinting policy for payroll checks, she said.

"They realize it's still a problem and we have to protect ourselves," Ahearn said.