Car Dealer Refuses To Sell You A Vehicle Without A Thumbprint

Why does your car dealer need your thumbprint? Its for your protection, silly! Unless you don’t want to be “protected.” Then you’re not getting a car. From Lornamatic, the blog of a carless but still clean-thumbed customer:

You are handed a slip of paper and told to mark your right thumbprint in a box. The paper says clearly that it’s a request, for your protection, and to prevent your identity theft.

When you politely decline, the dealership refuses to sell you the car.

This is precisely what happened to me today when I tried to purchase a new X3 at the South Bay BMW dealer in Torrance, California.

Let me restate: In order to buy a car, with cash, you must authorize the release of your official DMV-recorded thumbprint to the dealership. This is not a law, this is a “dealership policy.”

No thumbprint. No car. —MEGHANN MARCO

Brave New Car Dealer: fingerprints required to buy a car? [lornamatic via BoingBoing] (Thanks, Jason!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. rocketslide says:

    In her post, she says her credit report was run without her knowledge. My understanding is that businesses need your explicit permission for this?

    But the thumb print, total bullshit. Good for her for walking away from the purchase.

  2. esqdork says:

    No privacy. No sale. Of course, we’ll see how long my policy lasts. Indeed, between my ATM, credit cards and payck auto-deposit. Any person with access to the data knows where and what I’m up to.

  3. r81984 says:

    A dealership that does not want to sell cars?

    Either it was an isolated incident and that salesmen will be fired when his boss finds out or this dealership is on the fasttrack to going out of business.

  4. faust1200 says:

    We non-millionaire/drug dealers aren’t often buying new BMW’s in cash so I wouldn’t expect a huge uprising here. Buying a car in cash is a big red flag for car dealerships. Perhaps it wasn’t right to ask for a fingerprint but I personally would have submitted if I had nothing to hide. I’m sure you won’t have much more trouble finding someone to take your money. If all else fails you could just have the dealership say “hello to your little friend.”

  5. royal72 says:

    read the link as the whole story is quite interesting.

  6. weave says:

    A BMW with cash? Define cash? Literally? Not like something good as cash, like a cashiers check? you know how much space $30k+ in cash takes up? It’s not going to fit into your pocket for sure….

    You know what I want to know along these lines is, a car dealer that will just let me park a car on my Amex card. Yeah, sure, they have to get hit with a few percent, but I’m also the type that is far less likely to chew a dealer down to the bare minimum price too. I just want to walk in, pick a car, charge it, and leave.

    Plus they won’t have to spend the time to check a few hundred c-notes to see if they are counterfeit or not.

  7. soj17 says:

    Maybe you should consider a different vehicle, there are several that will hold your starbucks so you can talk on your cellphone while driving through a school zone.

  8. faust1200 says:

    Well I (mostly) read the full story. There’s 5 minutes of my life I will never get back. Lorna acts like her soul is being stolen if she relinquishes a copy of her precious thumb-print which if fell into the wrong hands someone could certainly well ummm do well maybe ..uhhh… Yes it is unfortunate there is crime in the world. If we could all just marry up the world would be such a nicer place.

  9. Tallanvor says:

    @weave: Eh, probably not in your pocket, but if she were going to pay in cash, she could easily fit it in her purse, as long as there were plenty of $100s and $50s, and not a lot of $10s, $5s or $1s.

    But please, requiring a fingerprint? When I was involved in a yearly convention and would bring $100k into the bank during the biggest deposit run (it’s not as much fun carrying that much money around as you might think), I had to verify my identity with my ID, and I even had to give information about my employer (they claimed it was due to the Patriot Act), but even they didn’t try to take fingerprints.

    But I’m guessing she was actually trying to use a cashier’s check or something similar, rather than bills. –Much more secure that way.

  10. MattyMatt says:

    You know, I can see how this could maybe sorta potentially be beneficial to consumers: if someone stole my wallet, they probably could use my cards to buy a car. A thumbprint would stop them.

    But the privacy concern here is obviously a show-stopper. What happens to your print after they verify that you’re you? Do they shred it? Or keep it on file forever, for some unscrupulous person eventually to steal?

  11. mac-phisto says:

    i’m so tired of hearing that “nothing to hide” argument, & thanks to this blog i now have an answer, for i too use biometrics to lock my computer. so, you know what? i do have something to hide…my thumb print. it is the key to my data & by printing forms willy-nilly i cannot ensure that my personal data remains personal. & since i don’t plan on suing myself for a data breach anytime soon, maybe i should get a lawyer busy on concocting some “affidavit of liability” for anybody who wants my thumb print to sign. oh, & if you could just place your thumb print right next to your signature on the affidavit please…

  12. wikkit says:

    I read the article….interesting stuff. No mention of what “cash” meant though. If “cash” means little sheets of paper with dead presidents on it, I can sort of understand the dealership’s policy.

    My dad used to sell cars, and it’s some sort of law that any sum of cash >$10k requires some explanation of the source/origin (to prevent money laundering). This is serious business, and if it isn’t well documented, the salesperson can be charged in conjunction with any potential money laundering.

    The cost of litigation here far and above outweighs the loss of business from a few ruffled customers. My guess is that the biometric information is the dealership’s that you are who you say you are, and their insurance policy should you turn out to be an alias.

  13. weave says:

    It doesn’t matter what a company’s privacy policy is, personal data will and does get stolen. You can get a new credit card in that case, but how are you going to replace your thumbprint?

  14. ajn007 says:

    I bought a bike today for 1/100th the price of that car. With cash. I wasn’t asked for a thumb print. But reading some of the stories on Consumerist over the past few days, I fear it won’t be long before we’re asked for our thumb print when we buy a pint of milk. I mean, really, if the “I have nothing to hide” is indicative of the attitude in this country (USA), this is where we’re headed. And then to much more ominous territory beyond…

  15. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I call BS. The thumbprint is not to protect the customer, it’s to protect the dealer in case the buyer is linked to some sort of crime. Or if the vehicle is financed and the buyer skips out on the payments, the dealer can submit the thumbprints to the cops or collections agencies.

    Lorna did the right thing by walking away. Too bad the dealer already had some other bits of her personal info; which is probably sitting in an open dumpster out back.

    I would recommend sending a letter of complaint to BMW USA headquarters. I’m sure they’d like to hear about this mistreatment of their customers.

  16. Bourque77 says:

    There are plenty of other places that will sell you a car I’m sure. And unless you just must have a new car buying a car with a few hundred/thousand miles someone bought and couldnt afford is the way to go.

  17. kerry says:

    @rocketslide: Nope. Anyone with your name and some identifying thing (like your address) can run a credit report on you. If your identity is stolen you can have a temporary block put on credit checks, where they’ll only go through after you’ve approved them by phone (the credit reporting agency calls you at a pre-determined number when someone attempts to run a credit check on you).

  18. jak312 says:

    Car dealerships hate cash transactions (i.e. actual green paper). Very large cash transactions can be used to laundry money, so there is additional IRS paperwork and other headaches that go with cash transactions.

    While I disagree with the policy of requiring a thumb-print, one should realize that if you are in a state where an imprint is required for a driver’s license or state ID, the security of this biometric data is already highly questionable. Besides, it isn’t like your average identity thief can fake a thumb-print, even if they have access to an original image or biometric description. I’d be much more concerned about the other documents.

  19. AcidReign says:

    …..I’m having a hard time getting my head around this. I can’t imagine turning down Beamer money over a thumbprint. This is a crazy world.

  20. magic8ball says:

    @jak312: “Besides, it isn’t like your average identity thief can fake a thumb-print, even if they have access to an original image or biometric description.” Actually, it’s easier than you think. Some biometric readers can be defeated with a copy machine, especially if you have a clean print to work with. This is a link to the Mythbusters episode where they hack a thumbprint scanner:

  21. adamondi says:

    @ajn007: Yes, because trying to buy a $30,000+ BMW with cash is exactly like buying a pint of milk. Just another insane “slippery slope” argument that eschews all semblance of logic.

  22. bokononist says:

    adamondi: All the more reason that they shouldn’t require the thumbprint. If I bring $30K+ to the table in cold, hard cash I would expect to get the customer service I want. If not, there are other places I can bring $30K to who would be happy to take it.

    Laptops come with thumbprint-based security mechanisms that can be defeated with a copy of a thumbprint. I’d never give a car dealer the password to my laptop, but giving them a thumbprint is doing exactly that.

  23. emax4 says:

    It’s a friggin’ thumbprint for crying out loud! Just put your thumb on the print and get on with it. She must be hiding something if she doesn’t want to submit her thumbprint. And contrary to her story, the thumbprint can be useful, as the dealership can submit it to the foresnics library where they can trace other criminals and check her thumbprint against others.

    Think about it… Say a crook DOES submit his or her thumbprint, which then gets traces back to the police or DMV, and that crook is caught a day or week before burglarizing YOUR home. Because she didn’t submit her thumbprint, think of all the other crooks that are siding with her and going elsewhere because they didn’t want to submit their thumbprint because of privacy issues.

    Not only that, but if she’s worried about privacy, how does she have a job to afford a BMW, assuming she didn’t submit her drivers license or social security number to her employer as proof of being a U.S. citizen? Who’s to say that someone at her workplace can’t go in, steal her records, and assume her identity? Where does it end?

    I worked at a music store and we had to thumbprint those who would bring in used gear. If they traded it in for cash or other gear, then found out the gear they traded in was stolen, we already have their thumbprint. That may already be in the database which would help narrow who and/or where the person is from. Cars and music gear can be purchased quickly. Houses and real estate stays, but they still check your name against a national terrorist database.

    As far as the dealership’s policy, if she didn’t like it then she should have just gone elsewhere. No need to argue about it. You don’t like it that a local fast food restaurant doesn’t accept credit or debit cards? Then go somewhere else! If you’re upset that the tech support for the computer you purchased only has help in India, then don’t buy the friggin’ computer! Businesses set their own rules too, and any business owner will tell you the same thing. They can choose to frisk everyone that walks in the door, or make employees work an 80-hour minimum workweek. They’re just protecting themselves.

  24. facted says:

    I can see why they want the fingerprint…$30,000 in cash? That’s pretty rare for someone to buy a car with cash when people can just use checks, credit cards, etc…why the cash? One reason could easily be money laundering (or stolen money for that matter) and in that case, it sounds like BMW is covering their behinds, which isn’t a bad idea.

  25. dculberson says:

    Dudes, she says “check” at the beginning. First paragraph. Not too bright, are ya’?? “Cash” when purchasing a vehicle is commonly used as opposed to “financing.”

    And emax, get over yourself. If I walked into a dealership to buy a car in “cash” (meaning no financing) and they asked me to provide a fingerprint, especially considering that the form said it was a request, I would say absolutely not. I have nothing to hide, but that does not mean I want to provide that information to the kind of yokels handling data at a car dealership. And I have bought multiple cars that way, and never had to provide a fingerprint. I didn’t even have to provide my social security number. First car was $11k, second was $14k. Name, address, driver’s license, and payment, and I got the car. I’m providing money for a product, not trying to sell crappy instruments to some seedy used dealer in the ghetto.

  26. bndocksnt says:

    @kerry: Okay, while “technically” one can run your credit by virtue of possessing the necessary information, for it to be legal they must also possess your consent. I would imagine rocketslide had this in mind when posting the comment. Perhaps the legality of this varies state to state, but in my neck of the woods (Seattle) you have to inform the consumer of the credit check before performing it or you leave yourself open to litigation.

  27. I’ve never had to provide my thumbprint to purchase a car. I just bought a 04 Nissan Maxima 4 months ago. I drove the car off the lot, came back in 3 days to pay my $1K down payment and signed about 3-4 times and provided my driver’s license and military ID for copying.

    All in all – it was a great experience.

  28. latemodel says:

    The presumption is that if you use cash for large transactions you are either a drug lord or a tax cheat. There is a presumption of guilt and that is something I will endeavor to hide. I have had to fill out the form for 10k transactions for the IRS at my bank many times and I have never put any accurate information on one in 10 years and never will. If they want to know where the money came from let them ask the guy that brought to me themselves because I have no duty to be a policeman. I a have been under the impression that bill are legal tender and can not be refused.

  29. kalikidtx says:

    yes people pay cash for cars everyday, and way more people do then you would think, on a second note, car dealers, especially in California have many many many laws in which t6hey must adhere to, and each dealership or their lawyers interpret the law differently. They have every right to ask your for a thumbprint and/or an option contract when someone pays cash. They also have every right to refuse to do business with anyone for any reason (including refusing to give up their thumbprint). In todays society where car dealerships get ripped off for ten of thousands of dollars. I think thsi IS in the dealerships best interest. I work in the auto industry and see dealers get ripped off everyday (even more then customers) hard to believe I know…..

  30. grrrarrrg says:

    screw that dealership and their thumbprint policy!

    actually, i’d guess that the salesperson committed a major booboo in the sales quote, and the dealership was looking for ANY way to get out of this sales contract.

    too bad Lorna didn’t list the purchase price that the dealership had already agreed to. that would just shoot my theory to pieces.

  31. Buran says:


    So if it’s no big deal, please post up your home address, phone number, and a scan of your thumbprint.

    I guess you can’t read, either, because the woman in question DID walk out and take her money with her.

  32. rongenre says:

    Again, by cash she meant “not financed.” Which makes a lot of sense, since BMW financing isn’t at the zero-interest deals that US automakers offer. It’s like 8%: if you have the cash, there’s no reason not to use it.

    Kudos for walking away, insisting on a thumbprint isn’t standard practice by any means.

  33. ReverendDrGladhands says:

    My guess is that they fear getting burned by bad checks. I still wouldn’t gove my print.

  34. Jesse in Japan says:

    I think the East German Stazi had a policy kind of like that.

  35. Jason-Ryan-Isaksen says:

    This is only half the story. As was mentioned earlier I think she was trying to write a personal check for it and drive away and they wouldn’t play ball. She didn’t say certified check or something secure and it’s likely they didn’t have cash on hand, so it’s pretty safe to assume she was trying to write a check and get the car.
    I’ve heard stories of identity thieves buying homes, cars, anything expensive and don’t blame the dealer for trying to cover themselves. A thumb print is a lot easier to get from someone than their SSN and there’s a lot less you can do with it. With a color laser you can make phony documents easier than ever before and I personally don’t see what a hacker is going to do with a thumb print compared to other personal info we give out all the time.

  36. Coronagold says:

    You know what? I don’t give a flying fuck.

    There’s something pointed at you & at those you hate at any given time.

    Common sense. Makes a world of difference.

  37. MikeWas says:

    All that garbage from the dealer about “Task Force” THIS and “law enforcement recommendations” THAT might make nice fodder for a decent consumer fraud attorney, since it’s apparently all completely false.

  38. BartMack says:

    With a personal check, I can see the validity of a “personal assurance” a fingerprint. A check is a voucher for cash, not actual cash.

    However, green cash should be green cash, good for milk, good for the electric bill, good for a used car, good for a new car. [We] are NOT guilty until proven innocent of money laundering!!

  39. mconfoy says:

    The sheep should listen to the song Sheep on Pink Floyd’s Animals. We know what happens when you were in a sheep in Europe during WW 2.

  40. FLConsumer says:

    When I recently purchased a new car with a price tag well in excess of the price of a BMW X3, paid for it with a personal check and no credit check or fingerprint was required.

    I would gladly take my business elsewhere if the dealer required any such personal information to complete the transaction. Now, if the dealer wished to speak with my banker at the bank to verify sufficient funds in the checking account, I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

  41. ajn007 says:

    @adamondi: Have you been paying attention to the erosion of our civil and privacy rights over the years? Slippery indeed! I bet 8 years ago you were saying there was no way the government would listen in on our phone conversations without a warrant.

  42. faust1200 says:

    If a fingerprint is so holy to everyone perhaps you should wear latex gloves when you leave the house. Imagine how many of YOUR prints are on various surfaces as we speak. As the above poster stated, the gov’t doesn’t need our prints to infringe on our rights anyway. I also have a print reader on my laptop but you don’t HAVE to use it. You may use a password as normal. You may also use any finger you want, not just your thumb. I always viewed this feature as convenience, NOT heightened security. Anyone with true security issues would NOT be using MS Windows.

  43. mac-phisto says:

    @faust1200: my skin’s allergic to latex, but i could start wearing a nice pair of leather. it worked for oj!

  44. vanilla-fro says:

    What are people going to do with your fingerprints? steal your laptop from your home and then use a good photocopy of your fingerprint to get on your laptop? if they’re in your house stealing your laptop, they can find better personal info, or steal everything you own, or murder you. All they need is your wallet, for 10-15 minutes.

  45. Sudonum says:

    When you buy a car in CA and LA and probably every other state in the union you are required to give them a copy of your drivers license and proof of insurance. Even if you are paying cash. I have bought 2 cars with cash in the last 4 years. I wrote a personal check for each of them. No fingerprint required.

    Now I too have heard about car dealers and comsumers being screwed by identity thiefs. But it would seem to me in this instance that the dealer isn’t activly checking for a thief sitting in his showroom. He is keeping the print on file so that if anything occurs down the road he has something to try and chase down the thief with.

    Bottom line, if the person I am spending that kind of money with doesn’t trust me, then I have no reason to trust them. No thumbprint.

  46. acambras says:

    My favorite thing about this story would have to be the illustrations. Precious!

  47. kerry says:

    @bndocksnt: No, they don’t need your consent. Ever gotten a pre-approved credit card application in the mail? They ran a credit check on you, that’s why they sent it. Check your credit report sometime and see who’s been requesting it. You’ll see a lot of stuff you didn’t ask for, like American Express and every bank that has a credit card. The only way you can restrict the issuance of your credit report is to flag your name with the credit bureaus as an identity theft victim.

  48. adamondi says:


    @adamondi: Have you been paying attention to the erosion of our civil and privacy rights over the years? Slippery indeed! I bet 8 years ago you were saying there was no way the government would listen in on our phone conversations without a warrant.

    How much would you like to bet? You can feel free to just send that cash straight to me. I couldn’t care less that the “government” is listening in on my phone conversations without a warrant. They probably fall asleep 20 seconds into them. I know that I sometimes do.

    At any rate, I am far more concerned with being taxed into oblivion than I am with privacy rights. That is all the government wants, anyway. Our money. They don’t care about what I say to my wife or my parents over the phone. They just want to make sure that they take as much money from me as they possibly can. Stop worrying so much about phone taps and worry more about the fact that I only get to actually use about 50% of the money I earn after all of the income tax, social security tax, medicaid tax, sales tax, property tax, use tax, and every other stupid tax that they can think up.

  49. latemodel says:

    Any business which writes a receipt with a dollar amount at the bottom has to accept cash. They do not have accept anything else ie checks,credit cards,etc. They also dont have to have your SSN. Some states may require DL numbers or insurance info but my state does not.

  50. Sudonum says:

    @adamondi: Because they’re spending it on wiretaps!!

  51. acceptablerisk says:

    @latemodel: Not actually. They’re only required to accept hard currency to settle an outstanding debt. If they haven’t yet delivered the product or service, they can decline the transaction for pretty much any reason they like.

    If it were something like a restaurant charging you after you eat or paying somebody after they paint your house, then they’re required to accept cash.