Standing face to face with a cashier, every consumer has an array of payment options: cash, check or card. There are plenty of ways for identity thieves and scammers to take advantage of a credit or debit card, but personal checks can be even more problematic. Consider this: If an identity thief gets a hold of a personal check, they have one slip of paper with an incredible amount of information, including a bank name, bank routing number, bank account number, account holder's name, home address and possibly even more sensitive information. In short, everything they need to steal an identity.
A healthy dose of suspicion can serve consumers well when it comes to paying by personal check. It's critical to only give personal checks to trusted companies and people. Even then, keep in mind that while Aunt Mildred is a trustworthy person, she might leave your check lying around where a thief could snatch it.
For many people, ordering checks is a reflex leftover from the days when identity theft was nowhere near as common as it is today. Back then, it wasn't uncommon for people to ask that their driver's license number, home phone number and even their Social Security number be printed right on the check. In today's world, where identity protection should always be top of mind, rethink the old conventions. Use a P.O. Box for the address, list a work telephone number rather than a personal one and never include critical information like your driver's license or Social Security numbers.
If ordered checks go missing or never arrive, it's important to inform the bank immediately. They can help protect potentially compromised accounts if they're aware of the situation. For even more protection, shred canceled checks.
A little forethought and caution go a long way when using personal checks. Take the right actions and it's easier to pay with confidence.