How to Stop Thieves From Using Your Checks

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Don't have your Social Security or driver's license number imprinted on your checks. These numbers, combined with other information on your checks (your name, address, account number, telephone number) could supply a thief with enough details to apply for a loan, credit card, or a phony bank account in your name.

Notify your bank if you ordered checks and haven't received them in a reasonable time period, or if some checks are missing. These could be signs the checks have been stolen.

When writing checks, don't leave blank spaces on the lines designating who the check is payable to and the amount. Better to write details as close together as possible, avoid abbreviations and draw lines to fill any gaps. Otherwise, a criminal can easily change what you've written—such as, a check payable to I.B.M. could be doctored to read I.B. Mooney.

Use dark ink, never light colors (green, pink) or pencil that can easily be erased or covered over. And if you change your mind after writing all or part of a check, first mark “void” across the front and then shred it to pieces.

Most experts advise against writing your credit card number on a check to a merchant, even if the merchant asks for this information. If possible, don't make a check payable to “cash” (it's too easily cashed by just anyone). And never endorse a check until you're ready to cash or deposit it. Preferably, deposited checks should be endorsed “For Deposit Only” and your account number should be included. That way, if the check is stolen it can't be cashed.

Try to use your own pre-printed deposit slips. If that isn't possible, make sure the deposit slips stacked in the bank lobby don't have someone else's account number already written or printed on them. Believe it or not, many depositors don't pay attention to what's on deposit slips—a mistake some thieves have used to enrich their own accounts.

Keep checks in a safe place. In fact, treat them as if they were cash. You may not ultimately be responsible for checks stolen and forged against your account, but it can take a long time to clear up the problems. Contact your bank immediately if your checkbook or individual checks are lost or stolen. And if you use signature stamps, check imprinters or personal computers to make your check-writing easier, keep them secure so you know who has access to them.

Don't just throw out cancelled checks, unused deposit slips, old bank statements, or credit card and automated teller machine (ATM) receipts. Shred and destroy them as best you can. These items could be used by a thief to make new checks or order them from a mail-order check printing firm.

When balancing your checkbook, be alert to paid checks that are out of sequence or any other unusual items. For example, if your newly cancelled checks include one numbered in the 400s when the rest are in the 200s, that could be a sign that a thief got to your supply.

Also notify your bank if you don't receive your statement within a reasonable time. A bank statement contains account numbers, balance information and other details that could be useful in a fraud. Many depository institutions (and their customers) also prefer not to have cancelled checks sent in bank statements as one way to prevent thieves from stealing the actual checks or getting examples or signatures. (Institutions that don't return checks generally microfilm them and can supply a copy of a check, for a nominal fee, if requested to do so.)

Don't give out any personal information, like account numbers and Social Security numbers, to anyone over the telephone unless you initiate the call and you know you're dealing with a reputable organization or firm. A common telemarketing scheme is to get you on the phone, supposedly to discuss a gift you've “won,” but really to obtain your checking account information. If successful, this person can use the information to issue a bank draft that deducts funds from your account.

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