Want to Protect Your Identity? Stop using Checks


25 May,2015

I’ve been a little frustrated since moving to Pennsylvania because I still need my checkbook in some cases. While it’s inconvenient to use a check most of the time, I started thinking about some of the other issues that come with using a checkbook. One of the problems with using checks is that they are the perfect tools for the identity thief.

All the Information a Fraudster Needs

The biggest issue with checks is the fact that a single check contains all the information an identity thief needs to access your account. Think about the items that are listed on your check:

  • Account number
  • Bank routing number
  • Your first and last name
  • Your address

I’ve also seen, in the past, some consumers add their driver’s license number to their checks. This is a throwback to the days when many retailers required identification when accepting checks. I remember being a cashier and checking ID, and being required to write customers’ driver’s license numbers across the top of their checks. Adding the license number to the check used to be one way to speed up the pace of the transaction.

Also, let’s not forget that if an identity thief gets a hold of a check that you have used to pay for something, he or she now has your signature. This can be used for a variety of purposes, and a good fraudster with access to a forger (or even with modest forgery skills him or her) can make use of your signature.

For many identity thieves, your account information can be used for different fraudulent activities. Even if the fraudster doesn’t have your Social Security number, it’s possible to do plenty of damage.

Online Shopping

At many online retailers, it’s possible for you to enter your bank’s routing number and your account number and complete a purchase using funds directly from your checking account. The retailer might ask for your billing address for verification, but that’s not hard to get when that’s the address on your check.

A fraudster could easily go on an online shopping spree and drain your account, using nothing more than the information garnered from a check that he or she managed to acquire in some way.

Dealing with the Fallout from a Stolen Check

First of all, someone draining your account can have serious consequences for you, especially if you don’t find out until after the fact. You might see your debit card denied when you try to use it, or you might have payment requests for regular bills rejected. As you overdraw your account, and as payments are rejected, the fees will add up. This can become overwhelming very quickly.

The thought of someone getting your information and using it to access your bank account should worry you since it’s harder to get your own money back once it’s gone. Yes, you might be able to get the money back if the bank believes that you have been the victim of fraud. However, it can take several days — or even weeks — for you to get your money back.

Not only that, but you need to completely revamp your account once the information has been compromised. You need to close the account and open a new account, with a different number and other different information. When you do this, it’s also important to notify all of the companies that automatically deduct payments from your account. Insurers, utilities, and others need to know that you have a new account, otherwise you could run into other problems when your payments are denied, such as a lapse in service or insurance coverage.

Phasing Out Checks

I’ve been trying to phase out checks in my life. I’ve met with varied success, especially since moving. However, most of my bills are paid via online billpay. On top of that, I try to arrange for as many of my bills as possible to be paid using credit cards. That way, my checking account information isn’t out there as widely. I like to do my best to protect my checking account as much as possible since that is my money. If I’m going to risk some information getting “out there”, I want it to be credit card information, due to the tight fraud protections and the fact that it’s not my money on the line.