Check Safety in the Age of Identity Theft

Check Writing Has Some Pitfalls

Check writing used to be the ONLY way to pay, other than cash.  Times have changed and checks are now the LEAST secure way to pay a bill, or anyone, for that matter.  I know this will dismay some people but there are many articles and pleadings from banks about this.  Here’s why:

 With a check, criminals can

  • Transfer funds or charge purchases.  They have your name, address, and bank account information.
  • Create a fake identity and use it for nefarious purposes.
  • Create duplicate checks by chemically washing the To: and Amount sections.
  • Scan your signature, steal your identity, and claim tax refunds & government benefits.
  • Take out loans in your name.

Yes, it is that bad. 

line of outdoor mailboxes on a post

Improving Your Check-Safety Level

There are some things you can do to prevent some of ways your check can be used against you. If you must write a check, consider taking advantage of these tips:

  • Don’t put checks in an outdoor mailbox, even those of the postal service. Take them to the post office and use the indoor box. Retirement community USPS boxes are ok to use.
  • Collect your incoming mail quickly so it can’t be stolen.
  • Store checkbooks securely, preferably under lock & key. Don’t keep them in your purse or car.
  • Use non-erasable blue or black gel ink to make the check harder to wash.
  • Ordering Checks
    -Get the kind with security features like watermarks, holographs, microprinting, and heat-sensitive ink, to deter check-washing and forgery.
    -Use just your initials and last name on the check, like “P. L. Dough”. It doesn’t have to match what is on the bank account and forgers won’t know how to sign. Do not put your phone number on the checks.
  • Monitor your account transactions regularly.
  • Turn on alerts through your bank for checks over a certain limit, foreign transactions, and whatever makes sense for your lifestyle.
  • Shred checks once they clear unless you need a tax record. Shred unused books of checks.
  • This may sound odd, but it happens! Never put a photo of a check on social media!!
  • Checks to small businesses and individuals may be less safe due to poor handling.

Avoid Writing Checks Whenever Possible

  • There are steps you can take to avoid writing checks altogether, if you have the skills to do so.
  • Pay anyone from your bank bill pay system (online banking). The check that is then mailed does not show your account and routing number.
  • Pay by credit card as long as you pay off the balance every month. Don’t use debit cards; they do not carry the same protection.
  • Pay online at a vendor’s website–preferably with a credit card or PayPal™.
  • Send money to friends, family with Zelle™, Venmo™, PayPal™, or other app.
  • Set up autodrafts for regular payments to large corporations with good security.
  • Pay taxes online at IRS DirectPay and through your state’s online payment system.

These methods are far more secure if you have good password management are not intimidated by ‘online everything’! Otherwise, you may need assistance to be more secure.

If You Become A Victim

hand holding a cell phone

Keep Good Records. Document the event, the calls you make, the information shared, phone numbers, dates, etc.

 

  • Notify financial institutions.  This applies to any bank, investment company, or credit card company that might be involved.
  • Notify the Police.  Often, a police report is needed if any restitution is to be made.
  • Passwords. Change passwords immediately on any affected accounts.
  • Lock credit cards if the fraud involved a card.
  • Freeze your credit with the 3 credit bureaus in the case of identity theft to prevent new loans being opened in your name.
  • File a claim.  If you have a credit restitution service, let them know.  You may be able to file a claim and get help.

What You Need To Know

We hope none of our readers become victims! Unfortunately, those who do are at a higher risk of having it happen again. It is very comfortable and tempting to keep doing things the way you are used to doing them. But with check-writing, that may not be a good plan. Do your best to limit the number of checks you write and follow the tips above to be safer in this crazy world.

For more information, follow Paper Tigress on Facebook or Linked In.  The links are below.

Your financial stability is our top priority.

Your health and peace of mind are worth every step of this journey.