Any tips on how to become more fingerprint-able?
August 17, 2009 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Any tips on how to become more fingerprint-able?

I am joining the Public Health Service. The confirmation process involves (among many other things) submitting a set of fingerprints for a background check. To this end I have been fingerprinted three times; each time I have been told that the fingerprints “weren’t scannable” and were “unclassifiable by the FBI”. I have been fingerprinted twice at a federal prison and once at the Waterville, Maine, police station.

I am a nursing student, and I have been told that health care workers and teachers sometimes have a tough time giving a good set of fingerprints due to their semi-constant hand washing (thus removing natural oils.) The last time I went to be fingerprinted, I tried not washing my hands for most of a day (I know this is gross) but I still had an unreadable set of prints.

Has anyone been in this situation before? Or have experience with taking fingerprints? It would be especially helpful to know if certain institutions would be better than others at getting a valid set.
posted by natural log to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would say call around and find out where you can get them scanned while you're still there. That way they can try until they get a good set. Also, the last time I was printed, it was on a glass scanner directly hooked up to a computer, no ink involved. Maybe you can find someone with one of those?
posted by ctmf at 8:40 PM on August 17, 2009

I have been fingerprinted multiple times over the past few years for my education and job. Here in California, we have livescan, where you press your fingers to a glass scanner. Various fingerprint technicians have used moisturizer or hand sanitizer to add moisture to my fingertips right before scanning. The livescan machines take the scan and immediately tell you whether the fingerprint is good or if it needs to be redone.
posted by Nickel at 8:46 PM on August 17, 2009

Argh! I'm having the same issue, but in CA. (I'm going for my teaching credential.) It's driving me insane! I'll follow this thread with EXTREME interest.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:54 PM on August 17, 2009

Response by poster: Computer scanning sounds like a great idea. My other sets have been of the old-fashioned ink-and-paper variety. How does one submit the scanned fingerprints? Do they electronically submit them for you? Or is there a print-out you receive and can submit on your own?

Does anyone know if this sort of fingerprint technology is more common in certain venues than in others (police stations vs. prisons vs. other institutions)?
posted by natural log at 9:00 PM on August 17, 2009

My understanding is that hand sanitizers such as Purell can remove fingerprints. Is there a way you can take a break from using this stuff for a couple weeks?

The DMV here in California uses print scanners. In general I've never had a full set done on one, though.
posted by rhizome at 9:12 PM on August 17, 2009

How does one submit the scanned fingerprints? Do they electronically submit them for you? Or is there a print-out you receive and can submit on your own?

When I got my concealed carry permit in Philly, they electronically shipped them off to the feds.

But if they have a sufficiently good laser printer, they could probably print out a set.
posted by Netzapper at 10:03 PM on August 17, 2009

I just realized what you actually want is the background check. If you don't need the fingerprints in your file with PHS, only a good result from the background check, then you'll likely be a-okay with the electronic ones.

I mean, it's not like they were giving you the fingerprint cards to be mailed anyway... were they?
posted by Netzapper at 10:05 PM on August 17, 2009

When I had a government job, I got fingerprinted. My fingers were really hard to fingerprint. The officer gave me hand lotion/moisturizer, and it helped a lot - 8 of my 10 fingers scanned clearly on the computerized/glass, and the other two were not as distinct, but I still got a clearance. I spent 40 minutes trying to give good fingerprint and quizzing the officer on all of the pop cultural police stuff I ever wanted to know.

She said that if I got rejected, I should moisturize/lotion my fingers several times a day for the 2 days previous to the next scan attempt, and that I should try not to wash my hands before I came back. She said to lotion it up 2 and 1 hour before I showed up, and then a half-hour before to maximie my skin ridginess. Now, I wash my hands a lot, and my fingertips have lots of cuts from cutting and handling little bits of glass, but we were eventually successful!

I believe I got both a printout I handed in - which also had an electronic tracking code - and it got placed in some electronic file.

You don't have to get fingerprinted in your own county or city if you are applying for a state/federal reason. Call around to neighboring counties, explain you need to get fingerprinted and it's been suggested a computer might get clearer prints, and see when they're open for fingerprintin'.
posted by julen at 10:11 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you were being fingerprinted using ink, I really do not see how constant hand washing prior to the printing is going to negatively affect the prints. I'm willing to bet that the real reason the prints are not that good is due to the person printing you rushing through it.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 10:16 PM on August 17, 2009

nthing hand lotion. I've been fingerprinted more times than I can count, and having dry skin will mess up both the traditional ink fingerprints but especially the modern electronic glass-plate ones.

I don't know quite how they work, but I've seen fingerprint scanners just refuse to recognize someone (here I'm talking about the little single-digit USB fingerprint scanners, like those used by the CAC system) until they put some lotion on. Apparently the scanners are designed for a certain level of oil on your skin; if your skin is dryer than that, they don't work.

The next time you go to get your prints taken, I'd ask politely and try and get the person taking your prints to verify the prints the machine is getting. Someone with a lot of fingerprinting experience ought to be able to tell from looking at the screen whether it's getting good prints that are going to be indexable or not, and redo them if they aren't.

Alternately, if you've been fingerprinted using an electronic (inkless) system every time, maybe you can inquire about having them done the old-fashioned way with ink on a paper card. That might have more luck. The last time I got my prints done, we spent a while trying to use their brand-new fancy machine, but in the end the guy just used ink because he wasn't happy with the results and said I'd have a better chance of not getting them kicked back that way. Although I don't much like getting all inky, it's better than having to make a second trip...or, in your case, a fifth.

The only other idea that comes to mind is to call your local FBI field office (Boston would be the closest; there isn't one in northern New England unfortunately) and see if they have any locations they recommend (maybe Lewiston or Portland would be higher volume and do a better job than Waterville PD?), or as a true last resort, if it would be possible for you to go down to Boston and have them taken there in person. I don't think they typically do that for Joe Citizen, but as you're seemingly in a catch-22 situation maybe they'd have something to suggest.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 AM on August 18, 2009

When I had my last set done, I had to use hand sanitizer (Purell, I think) on every finger in order to get a readable set. Officer said that it wasn't uncommon, and they kept a bottle around just for that reason.

Be careful about digital prints - I think they're an outstanding idea, but make sure whoever is receiving them can accept them. I was specifically told to submit non-digital prints, so it may vary by office.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:17 AM on August 18, 2009

I work for the government, so I'm constantly being fingerprinted. I also apparently have sweaty fingerprints. The various and sundry grumpy g-men that have fingerprinted me use alcohol wipes like you would use before administering a shot to dry my fingertips before applying the ink/transfer chemicals.

Also, don't press, just roll.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:41 AM on August 18, 2009

The water on the glass method made my prints unscannable and unclassiable, so they had to do the old fashioned ink on paper, and that worked fine.
posted by bunny hugger at 6:24 AM on August 18, 2009

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