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Bank bans cell phones

Citizens Bank of Nevada County is banning the use of cells phones in its five branch offices beginning Friday because of concerns over bank and customer security.

Bank officials are particularly wary of the increased popularity of picture phones, which they fear could be used to record sensitive bank and customer data.

“We’re doing this for our customers’ privacy and the security of bank records,” said Michael Behn, senior vice president/chief information officer who is also responsible for bank security.



Citizens may also be pioneering a trend in the banking industry. John Hall, who follows security issues for the American Bankers Association, said Wednesday he isn’t aware of any other banks that have instituted such a ban.

While Citizens doesn’t have records scattered around its offices, Behn said computer screens, loans documents and customer files could be good targets for camera phones.




“I asked myself: Would I let somebody come in the bank with a camera or video camera? The answer is no,” he said. “Anything we can do to put up a barrier (against identity theft) is something we have to do.”

Behn pointed out that identity theft was the No. 1 crime committed in 2004, and that 60 percent of all cell phones sold last year had a camera. Cell phones with streaming video were introduced at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Behn said camera phones have been used to steal personal information, but it hasn’t happened in a bank yet.

Because of the difficulty of distinguishing at a distance a camera phone from one that doesn’t have the feature, no cell phone use will be permitted in Citizens’ branches. Customers can still bring their phones into the bank; they just can’t use them until they exit.

The cell phone ban also applies to bank employees, except in emergencies, Behn said.

Bank customers have received mailers with their statements announcing the new policy, and people who use their cell phones in the bank are being told about the ban. Signs announcing the ban have been posted at the entrance of each office.

Behn sees the new policy as part of a growing trend. “Businesses are becoming more proactive in protecting their customers’ privacy,” he said.

Citizens has two branches in Grass Valley and one each in Nevada City, Penn Valley and Lake of the Pines.


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