bank account and routing number risk?
April 8, 2005 2:06 PM   Subscribe

What's the risk in exposing your bank account and routing number? Let's say you wrote VOID across a check and dropped it in the street. Could anyone use the information on a check to withdraw cash from your account, issue charges to your account, get themselves a new phone line on your dime?
posted by scarabic to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And can they check your balance?
[my landlord asked for this stuff on the rental application]
posted by duck at 2:11 PM on April 8, 2005

I think to buy some custom checks, all they require is a voided check with those numbers on them. So... with that information, they could make checks in your name. Eh?
posted by whatisish at 2:12 PM on April 8, 2005

A lot of places take check by phone/online as payment, all you need is a routing number and account number. Wouldn't be too hard for someone with the first two to make up a phony check number to give out.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:16 PM on April 8, 2005

wow. who takes cheques by phone? surreal. is that a usa thing?

you can make your own cheques, can't you (which makes what whatisish describes even easier)? but they need a valid signature (at least, you can claim the money back if they don't, i believe). but that would apply to the cheques by phone thing too. so something is odd.

the only worry i could think of was that someone could dump a load of drugs money into your account and then shop you to the police.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:21 PM on April 8, 2005

Having your account and routing numbers improves the chance of a fraudulent transaction -- using a paper draft or EFT -- being paid. While I would hesitate to consider either the account number or routing number "secret" -- RTNs are a matter of public record, and both are printed at the bottom of every paper draft you write -- I would regard the combination of the two as information to be given carefully rather than casually.

Oh, and andrew, checks have been accepted by phone in the US for better than ten years. The transaction itself is simply an EFT, but the end user treats it as a check.
posted by majick at 2:34 PM on April 8, 2005

If you made up a fake ID in that person's name, you could easily get away with writing fake checks on their account until they noticed or the money ran out.

And yes, anyone can check your balance if they have your account info. Landlords do that all the time as part of a credit check and curious citizens can do the same. Whee!

It's probably best to dispose of a blank check the same way you'd dispose of a dead body.
posted by naomi at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2005

You can check someone's account ballance with just a account and routing number? Huh.

But yeah, those things are not really all that secret. Anyone you write a check too will see it.

On the other hand, I've seen some banks advertize that they'll reimburse you in one bussness day, so if I were you I'd call your bank and see what their policy is. It may be you don't have too much to worry about.
posted by delmoi at 2:41 PM on April 8, 2005

With the routing number and account number, all you need to do is get your hands on some MICR toner and you are in business. Check fraud made easy!
posted by internal at 2:44 PM on April 8, 2005

I don't think you can get the bank to tell you someone's balance. But you can verify funds for a check by calling the bank and asking if the account holder has X number of dollars in their account (used to be part of my job to do this, long ago). So you could get a pretty good ballpark estimate of what's in there with a few calls.
posted by cali at 2:46 PM on April 8, 2005

No, not just anybody can check your account balance.

I just called my bank to verify this. Say someone, a landlord, calls and asks about you. All the bank can do is verify whether or not you have an account. They can only answer yes or no.

If you sign a lease application, you are sometimes signing over to the landlord the right to contact your bank. Even in that case, the bank will not give out info willy nilly. They can answer questions like how many NSF's you've had in the past few months, or your average daily balance. Remember, the landlord needs your sig to do this or he's out of luck.

I have given out my checking account number and bank routing number and SWIFT codes to lots of places in order to receive payments, many from abroad, and have never had a problem.

Today, when I made a hefty deposit and wanted a measly $50 cash back, I of course had to show my ID. This bank knows me, and I appreciate that they are protecting me in this way.
posted by subatomiczoo at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2005

I used to work on a fraud handling team for CitiBank.

This sort of scam is very, very common. The way it usually goes is a company pays an individual for a service or account credit refund.

That individual cashes the check as normal, but records the account and routing numbers. He then prints his own checks with his own name (or an assumed name if he's smart) on them and buys pricey, easy to sell items with them.

The really good ones never use their own names, and they always have ID for the fake name on hand that matches the name on the check.

They then have the products shipped (if it needs shipping) to a dock or apartment or rented mailbox, where they can pick the items up and abandon the address if needed.

So, it boils down to: Yes. Protect that stuff. Debit cards are safer than checks, so use one of those whenever possible.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:10 PM on April 8, 2005

YES YES YES -- Someone can definitely charge your account as you described. This happened to me (a small business) as several years ago I was dumb enough to post our business account details on our website for wire transfers (after all, hey, you see them give out ABA/routings on TV news for charitable donations). Well, I suddenly started getting charges totalling $800 from CCBill, iBill, and DHDMedia. I knew immediately what was wrong. Fortunately these three outfits (which I guess are fronts for porn charges) refunded all the money.

Considering all this info (ABA/routing) is available on checks, this pretty much means you can use any thrown-away check to make charges. I don't know what it takes to pull this off at CCBill, iBill, etc, but obviously it's been done. I don't know who took the loss on my missing funds, or under what circumstances I would have not gotten it back.

Interestingly the bank (Bank of America) told me that they could do nothing to prevent further charges from appearing. Gee, thanks. Needless to say I closed my account that week and have been banking with a local place ever since.

Also, YES your balance CAN be checked, sort of. In an effort to ship eBay goods early, I've had no problem calling up banks with a check # and account #, telling them I'm a merchant, and asking if a check written by them will clear. I tell them the dollar amount and they tell me yes or no. It seems all you need is a check # that is in sequence. Nobody's ever asked me for my company name or credentials.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:17 PM on April 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also, just to clarify, I don't recommend doing the above to ship eBay goods. I only do that on rare occasion if I'm about to go on vacation and can't wait around for a check to clear.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:26 PM on April 8, 2005

Sorry to be unclear above -- I didn't mean that anyone can call the bank and get your exact balance. I meant that anyone can hire a credit check company to do it for 'em.
posted by naomi at 3:27 PM on April 8, 2005

checks have been accepted by phone in the US for better than ten years. The transaction itself is simply an EFT

I actually was kind of floored recently to see that a deposit I made to my IRA account through my brokerage's Web site resulted in an actual check image appearing on my bank's Web site a few days later. Apparently my broker printed a paper check for me and cashed that! It is "signed" by my (printed) name and carries the IP address from which I made the deposit. My bank cashed the check, which is good, because my broker let me spend the money on stocks before it had cleared. (Possibly they called the bank to make sure I had the money.)
posted by kindall at 3:28 PM on April 8, 2005

Yeah. My church had our routing & account numbers on the website for people who wanted to set up automatic deposits for their giving. Somebody used the info to buy domain names.
posted by belladonna at 3:29 PM on April 8, 2005

When I opened my US bank account I was very surprised to see that in the T&Cs, I'd agreed that if anyone had my routing code and account number that I authorised them to take any amount from my account.

While in the UK it is possible to set up a Direct Debit whereby it's possible to take money from an account with the person's name, sort code (equivalent to routing code) and account number, there is a guarantee by all banks that if there is any fraud that I will be refunded in full, no questions asked.
posted by quiet at 3:50 PM on April 8, 2005

I have all my credit card bills set to auto-pay from my checking account. All I needed to set this up was my checking account and routing number from the bottom of any check. Same for online loan payment.

Some places require your address and phone number too to validate this sort of EFT, but HELLO that's usually printed on your checks in the top left corner by your bank.

I use checks for nothing except rent.
posted by CaptApollo at 4:15 PM on April 8, 2005

Not every check you deposit is manually reviewed. Sam deposits Jackie's check (with forged signature) into an account. Three days later, he takes the money out. Seven days later, the check clears Jackie's account or bounces. Sam's long gone!

You will technically not be liable for any fraudulent charges, but that doesn't mean there won't be paperwork and headaches when you file your fraud claim.
posted by Eideteker at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2005

Can't someone also use your bank account and routing number to get a credit card in your name?

Since leaving the US I've given up on checks. Debit cards are so much more secure and less of a hassle.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:03 AM on April 9, 2005

I think my generation is probably one of the first that hasn't used checks (in recent history at least). I thought a few years ago that I'd have to use a check to pay for my tuition but then I found I could just pay over the internet. I even pay my Dad back using internet banking.
posted by sirsteven at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2005

The reason they can't stop the ACH's (Automated Clearing House -- telephone check, echeck, whathaveyou) is that you have to know they're coming. Short of stopping your account totally (which can be done) there is almost no way to predict the charges. The reason it works to stop your debit card is that they know the "account" (card number) the thief will use. So, you see, if it's your bank account number, you're slightly screwed. This is why I do not, under any circumstances, give out my checking account information.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:42 PM on April 9, 2005

« Older Airport what?   |   web-based want lists Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.