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Bank's Thumbprint Rule Irks Man Born with No Arms

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Tampa Bay Online: TAMPA -- They're sorry.

Steve Valdez
Subjected to a national barrage of negative publicity, Bank of America has apologized to Steve Valdez, a 54-year-old Tampa man born with no arms who was not allowed to cash his wife's check last week because he could not offer a thumbprint.

The thumbprint policy is to prevent fraud.

But there are other policies as well, policies that Valdez apparently followed but the bank now admits it ignored.

"The bank has apologized to Mr. Valdez and his family for any inconvenience this may have caused," said bank spokesperson Nicole Nastacie in a written statement this afternoon. "This is an isolated occurrence and does not represent the bank's policies for accommodating customers or non-account holders with disabilities. We have ensured those policies have been underscored with all our associates across the bank."

Valdez was attempting to cash his wife's check Thursday at the Bank of America, 101 E. Kennedy Blvd. However, Valdez doesn't have an account at that bank and was asked to provide a thumbprint. It has been the bank's procedure for 10 years to prevent fraud.

"Obviously, you aren't going to give us a thumbprint," Valdez recalled the teller saying.

Valdez wasn't offended by the remark.

However, he asked to speak with the manager for alternatives that would allow him to cash the check. He was provided with two options: Have his wife come to the branch or open his own account.

Neither was practical, so he didn't cash the check.

"I guess I was shocked -- anger hadn't set in at that point -- by what they had to say," Valdez said Wednesday. "That's just not acceptable."

Nastacie said that once Valdez made it clear that he could not offer a thumbprint, bank personnel should have accepted his two identifications.

"Although we have certain requirements for non-account holders who use Bank of America for check-cashing services (including thumb printing), we also offer alternate requirements for individuals who may not be able to provide a thumbprint signature," she said. "One alternative may include additional forms of identification. This alternative should have been offered Mr. Valdez."

Valdez knows something about customer service. He has more than 20 years in the field and now serves as a manager for quality assurance and customer satisfaction for Hillsborough County's Public Works Department.

"You realize this is not the end of this; I just can't let this go,' " he recalled telling the manager, and "she said 'OK.'"

Nastacie said the company is working on developing alternatives to avoid similar episodes, but she won't go into any changes at the branch in question.

"For privacy reasons," she would not discuss the manager's employment status or whether she would be retrained.

"To her knowledge," nothing like this has ever happened before, Nastacie said.

Perhaps not in this bank, but the disabled face access problems every day said Barry Shalinsky, a self-determination team manager with the Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities Inc.

He said the bank's concerns regarding fraud prevention are legitimate, but "they need to flexible."

"They need to come up with a reasonable alternative. It can be a collaborative process between them and the individual," he said.

Shalinksy said he believes Valdez is doing the right thing by speaking up, and he urges others with disabilities to "know your rights, stand up for yourself and demand."

Shalinksy said you don't need to be unpleasant, but be assertive. "Don't take no for an answer," he said.

Valdez said his wife still has her Bank of America account and has no immediate plans to close it.

He said he has never been an advocate for people with disabilities, but this time it's different. He knows the awareness could help a lot of people.

"This is extremely uncomfortable," Valdez said.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous September 2, 2009, 6:43 PM

Maybe he should open an account with that bank. Loser

K&C's mom September 2, 2009, 11:06 PM

Anonymous, I hope your never have a disability!!!! I don’t have one, but I work with people who do, let me tell you that it is not an easy world for them to live in!!! You’re the LOSER for not understanding, and putting people down because they can’t function like we do!!!!!!!!!!!

Rita September 3, 2009, 10:02 AM

Ignorance is a disability…

K. Ann Spikef September 9, 2009, 9:02 PM

Really? Wow! Why not ask someone who is blind to read a print copy of some paper document to verify if it is correct. I volunteer my time to raise guide dogs for the blind. My experience has educated me that all people are not from the same cookie cutter mold. At least the bank is will to admit they made a mistake, not standing firmly by it like fools. (I wonder what they would do for people who’ve had prints burned off, not really a disability.)

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