ROSAUERS, OTHERS ARE TAKING A BITE OUT OF CRIME

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Rosauers Supermarkets here has joined a growing list of retailers taking a proactive approach to stopping check fraud and identity theft in their stores at the point of sale.Rosauers has implemented the "finger signature" system from Crime Bite, Aiken, S.C., in all 20 of its stores.The system requires customers cashing checks or using credit cards to provide an imprint of their finger

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Rosauers Supermarkets here has joined a growing list of retailers taking a proactive approach to stopping check fraud and identity theft in their stores at the point of sale.

Rosauers has implemented the "finger signature" system from Crime Bite, Aiken, S.C., in all 20 of its stores.

The system requires customers cashing checks or using credit cards to provide an imprint of their finger on a separate sticker at the point of sale.

Mick Mikalson, director of security, Rosauers, told SN recently the chain began piloting the Crime Bite system 18 months ago. After a successful test, it has now completed implementation of the system in all 20 stores, he said.

"If we can force that person cashing a fraudulent check to put some personal, identifying feature on that check, I know we can get prosecution," said Mikalson.

"I know it's forcing them to give their true identity at some point in time. I wanted to take that extra step. To me it's been very effective and very worthwhile for our stores," he added.

Rosauers also operates stores under the Super One Food Stores and Huckleberry's banners.

The chain has locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Using the Crime Bite system, retailers place a sticker on cashed checks or credit card slips held at the point of transaction.

The customer touches a colorless sponge with either of his forefingers and lightly taps the sticker. When his finger comes in contact with the sticker, a bright blue print appears on the sticker, recording the print.

Initially, the Crime Bite program focused primarily on cashed payroll checks and then credit card receipts.

Recently, it was expanded to include instant credit applications and job applications.

In the Northwest, where Rosauers operates, fingerprints are a more common and effective way to prevent fraud in stores and banks.

Mikalson said banks in that area have required prints from non-customers cashing checks for some time and his customers were surprised it took them so long to add the system.

"We have had hardly any, if any, negative comments. In fact, a lot of people were surprised that we hadn't begun it sooner."

The Crime Bite program seems to have worked for the chain, Mikalson said. Rosauers has had few counterfeit checks since implementing the program, he added.

"We still have some stores in the Northwest that aren't requiring fingerprints. Most of the criminals are looking to the easiest, softest victim to victimize. By taking that extra step, if nothing else we've forced those criminals to other stores that aren't using fingerprints."

In the part of the country where Rosauers operates, fingerprints or a driver's license number are required to prosecute fraud cases, Mikalson explained. Without one or both of those pieces of information, law enforcement officials don't feel that a business is taking adequate precautions.

The prints taken using the Crime Bite system are run through an Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to find the true identity of a perpetrator, but no other database is used.

Fingerprints obtained on checks that are legitimate never go any further than the check.

Crime Bite has been implemented by retailers in 27 states and in 4,000 corporate headquarters since the company was started in 1995.

Clients include Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Low's Foods, Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Fred Meyer, a division of Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is rolling the program out in Florida at the end of this month. The company plans to launch it in California next, as part of a national rollout.

Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., rolled it out in the middle of September.

Mikalson said the program has been economically very effective for Rosauers.

He estimates the cost of the program to be around 4 cents per print, depending on the volume purchased.

Lydia del Rossi, president of Crime Stoppers, said a smaller chain could start the program for around $20 including signage, stickers and sponges.

"It has been well worth the extra cost," Mikalson said. In a region known for its methamphetamine problems, Mikalson said that eliminating the risk of cashing a fraudulent check has forced those people to move to other retailers. It's a nice, clean, simple solution to a complicated problem, he added.

Educational materials and training are provided at no cost to retailers as they implement the finger signature program.

Del Rossi typically conducts the training sessions to help employees address the psychological barriers some customers may have when a print of their finger is taken. She said the key is to teach those employees at the front end how to present the procedure to customers, and to get those employees themselves psyched up to play a proactive role in preventing check or credit card fraud. While they are often held responsible, they aren't often given the opportunity to make a concrete difference, she added.