Identity Theft

Feb 2017


The other day I read a story about someone who was purchasing something at a retail store and how the people in line were upset because the individual was paying with a check. As far as I’m concerned, that’s neither here nor there. However, it got me to thinking that I have not written anything in a while about identity theft when it comes to writing checks. Even though with bill pay and automatic withdrawals people don’t write as many checks as they used to, there are still billions and billions of checks written by

Americans each and every year. Just like when you use your charge and debit cards you have to take precautions because the same thing applies to checks.

If you take a step back, think about all the information that’s on your check. Not only does the check include your name and address, but also your bank, your account number and the bank’s routing number. In addition, let’s not forget that a completed check also has your signature. I have no doubt that identity thieves can take this information and use it in all sorts of nefarious ways to cause you problems. Therefore, just like you have to be careful as to what ATM you use, you also need to be careful as to where you write checks and whom you write the check to.

When you are at a store and you write a check for your purchases, they usually just don’t take your check, what they also ask for is some sort of identification like a driver’s license. Typically, the clerk writes this information on the check itself. In addition to the clerk, how many people have access to that check and as a result your information? Think about how easy it would be for someone to take a picture of your check with their smart-phone. Because of this, I recommend that the great majority of people consider no longer writing checks at retail establishments. In addition, you also have to think twice about writing check to people that you do not know. For example, you hire a handyman to do work around your home and you pay them by check. Once again, who knows how many people have access to that information and what they may do with it. Therefore, paying by credit card or the old fashion way by paying cash are better ways to go.

I realize for many people checks are a way of life and it is hard to change old habits. However, the reality is that we live in a different world and in order to protect ourselves we sometimes have to change the way we do business and writing checks is one of them. I recommend for the great majority of us that we reduce our check writing and take advantage of check cards, bill pay and automatic withdrawals. Of course writing a check to a loved one for their birthday is one thing; however, writing a check to a stranger is something totally different.

One last note, it is important to know that when you write a check, you do have some protection for fraud under the law; however, it is limited. Therefore, I cannot stress enough how important it is to review your bank statement immediately when you receive it and to reconcile your account as soon as possible. If you find any errors or discrepancies notify your bank immediately. Remember when it comes to your banking issues you are the last line of defense.

Good luck!