PORTLAND (AP) – The security-camera image of Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari calmly using a South Portland ATM was one of the most haunting images to emerge following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A new law that takes effect Oct. 1 is designed to make sure banks do their part to keep the scene from happening again.

The measure, which is part of the USA Patriot Act, requires banks to verify the identity of people who want to open an account, take out a loan, obtain a credit card or otherwise transact business.

The requirement will be relatively easy for banks to enforce when people walk into a branch to open an account, but a little more difficult for phone and online banking, said Richard Hackett, a Portland lawyer.

The law requires banks to obtain and verify a customer’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, Hackett said. All of that information is easy to verify using photo identification.

But verifying a customer’s identity online or by phone is a little more complicated, Hackett said.

Most banks will take one of two approaches, he said. They’ll either try to positively identify customers by asking questions a terrorist or money launderer might not be able to answer, or negatively identify them by looking for suspicious Social Security numbers or fictitious addresses.

A few banks are worried that the new requirements will keep some customers from using online banking, which banks have been pushing for several years.

Mark Walker, general counsel for the Maine Bankers Association, said, “We have member banks who have determined that they will not open online accounts from customers outside their market area. … They’re just not going to accept that account because there’s really no good means of verifying that identity.”

Existing customers are exempted from the new identity checks, but as a practical matter most banks will use them for all customers opening up a new line of business, Hackett said.

AP-ES-09-22-03 0216EDT



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