In the past, I’ve wondered about the risks inherent in check writing — after all, every check has your name, address, bank routing number and account number printed on it, and it comes complete with your signature. Sounds like a recipe for disaster if it were to fall into the wrong hands… After all, this is exactly the type of information (minus the signature) that got out when CardSystems was hacked. So what should you do to protect yourself?
I’m not going to suggest that you stop writing checks outright for a fear of having your checking account compromised, but it seems like you should protect this information as jealously as you protect your credit card data — and perhaps moreso, as bank accounts don’t have the same level of fraud protection as credit cards do.
Here are just a few examples of things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a check for: eBay purchases, itinerant laborers, door-to-door sales, etc. I actually don’t make a habit of hiring itinerant laborers or buying from door-to-door salesmen at all, but if I did I sure wouldn’t want to hand out my banking information (nor would I feel comfortable handing over my credit card number). I always pay for pizza delivery with a check, but maybe I should use cash — this seems like a great line of work if you want ready access to people’s banking info. When it comes to eBay, I always use the much maligned PayPal, or use a US Postal Service money order if the seller requires it. Maybe I’m just being paranoid but, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Update: This entry is featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Smart Money Daily.