5 Ways To Avoid Check Fraud And Thwart Identity Thieves

Check-altering criminal mastermind Frank Abagnale has five ways to lockdown your checking account and secure your identity. Check fraud isn’t an anachronistic threat like Communism. Determined thieves can easily use your checks to steal your cash and your identity. Here’s how to stop them…

1. Don’t write checks.

Here’s the reason: If I write a check at Walgreens or CVS, I’m leaving that check behind with the clerk. And on that check is my name, address, phone number, my bank’s name and address, my bank account number, routing number, and my signature. And if that store clerk writes down my driver’s license on the front of the check, in nine states—including the one I live in—that’s my Social Security number, too. Then, next to it he writes my date of birth.

“Well, I don’t get that check back. So I don’t know if CVS destroyed the check, if they put it in a warehouse for seven days or 30 days. What I do know is that anyone who sees the front of that check has more than enough information to draft on my bank account.

2. Make sure the IRS cashed your tax check. Crafty thieves look for envelopes addressed to the IRS and, like resourceful squirrels, rip out the delicious fruit inside and claw off the IRS’ name and replace it with their own.

3. Don’t put checks in your mailbox. “That’s like putting the flag up [for fraudsters] to come get my mail.” Entrust your check-filled envelopes to the post office.

4. Treat your checkbook like cash. Leaving a checkbook exposed in your car is like hanging a sign on your windows reading “Smash Me!”

5. Balance your checkbook, or at least keep an eye on your online bank statement:

About 51 percent of Americans do not reconcile their bank statement—they don’t even open it. Banks love this because we have a law in the United States called Article 3, Section 406 of the Uniform Commercial Code. It says that you have 30 days from receipt of your statement to notify the bank of any discrepancies that may appear on your statement. If you don’t do that, then the bank has no liability to pay you.

Our online banking setup keeps us from hunting down the checkbook lurking somewhere in our apartment. Do people still use checks?

5 Ways to Avoid Being a Check-Fraud Victim [U.S. News & World Report]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Suttin says:

    As a recent grad, yes people still use checks. Now I have to run to the bank to cash 15 $25 checks…


  2. xrodion says:

    That is why myself with my bank I do paperless statements on my checking and savings accounts pay all my bills online don’t even bother writing checks ever. I think I only wrote so far maybe like fifteen checks since, I had my bank account open for almost five years.

  3. AD8BC says:

    Excellent points! But Frank forgot one:

    When you have your checks printed, instead of your full name, use your first and middle initial and your last name, i.e. use J. P. Doe instead of Jonathan P. Doe.

    If you have your checkbook stolen, nobody will know how you sign your checks, what type of fake ID to make, etc. Sure, he may succeed but you will have more proof on your side when you dispute any charges that the fraudster made.

    “Catch Me If You Can” was a great movie, but I also recommend you read Frank Abagnale’s autobiography of the same name, I read it a few years before the movie came out. Great book!

  4. Terrminal says:

    “So I don’t know if CVS destroyed the check, if they put it in a warehouse for seven days or 30 days”

    Something tells me they did the fiscally intelligent thing and deposited the check with their bank. If this is really the thinking of a check fraud mastermind, I’m not too worried…

    • ViperBorg says:

      @Terrminal: It’s withdrawn electronically. I worked security at a mall, and once a month I’d find checks just tossed in the trash. Some didn’t even make it in the trash. All for the same store.

  5. IphtashuFitz says:

    I use online bill payment for virtually everything now except for one or two specific things. And I don’t use automated bill pay either. I want to manually check my balance and manually enter the amounts I’m paying so if a change occurs I know about it.

  6. muffinpan says:

    Writing Checks, Online Bill Pay, Both leave you subject to theives who can steal your info. Hacking, phishing, key logging, theft of checks. Face it we are all potential victims. All you can do is be carefull and check your balances regularly. When you find a discrepancy you can begin the long long long journey down the path of resolving it.

  7. Vulcaex says:

    “Something tells me they did the fiscally intelligent thing and deposited the check with their bank.”

    You would be amazed at how many businesses – especially large chains – do not actually deposit the physical check. It is fairly common now to scan the check and convert it to an “electronic funds transfer”. This way the company gets your money much quicker and doesn’t have to deal with the check deposit fees banks charge most businesses.

  8. chiieddy says:

    In order to set up auto-deposit with my work, I need to give a voided check. I have to write a check to get my annual parking permit with my town. I wrote checks to the IRS this year. I write checks to my nail and hair places because they don’t accept tips on credit card (and the nail place doesn’t take card) and I don’t always have the cash on hand.

    So, I don’t write them often, but I do still write checks.

  9. Eliamias says:

    I still use checks for infrequent bills like property taxes, paying friends/family back and the like. Also, for HOA fees for my condo. Though I don’t exactly ‘balance’ my checkbook, I do keep track of what checks I write look over the statement every month to make sure that I recognize all of the transactions.

    Since I bought my checks just before I moved , I have no address on them. I don’t think I will bother adding it since I don’t use checks in a setting where I have to verify my address/hand over my driver’s license. For the life of me, I don’t understand writing checks for in-store retail purchases.

  10. Narockstar says:

    I have to write a check for my rent every month and probably once every six months for something incidental. They don’t even have my address on them, only my name. I use my debit card for almost everything.

    My Mom still uses checks though. I was shocked the last time I visited and she bought groceries with a check. I hadn’t noticed anyone writing a check in public in years. It felt like I was in a time warp.

  11. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Here’s another one: Don’t bank at Bank of America. A spokeswoman recently bragged that they have “multiple layers of security,” yet they gave $12,000 of my money out, in withdrawals of $1000, $1500, $2500, to a woman with only my account number and a fake license in my name with the wrong expiration date. SEVEN times. This isn’t one dim teller; it has to reflect their business practices.

    The woman had my account number, too, which is odd because: I don’t throw away my bank statements. I have them all locked up. Years of them. Did this come out of the bank? One wonders. Also, I don’t give out my driver’s license number (the DMV, my car insurance company and BofA are the three entities that have it), nor do I sign up at stores for those savings cards in my name, Furthermore, I don’t use an debit card and use checks to pay only five entities in my life, as I, too, consider them highly risky.

    I got my money back, but BofA ate days of my life while I fought with them to give me the letter stating there was fraud that I needed ASAP so the police in Dixon City, California, where there’s a population of 311 African Americans, and the police in Auburn, California, another BofA that let her walk in and steal my money, where there’s a population of 84 African Americans, can look for her, and have some shot of finding her if she’s from there or is still up there. (Yes, the thief happens to be black. I’m a skinny white girl with red hair and all my teeth, thanks.)

    I blogged it if you’re interested — in the details and the details about how I tracked down the contact information — e-mail address, phone number — of all the people who don’t usually deal with the dirty, dirty consumers — like the corporate general counsel, Timothy Mayopoulos. (In the comments section.)


    I’ve gotten my money back, and they finally gave me the letter Friday at 11am. I lost several writing days thanks to them, begging them for the letter through a bunch of people who seem to have stonewalling as their job description, and calling the DMV and credit bureaus and all the rest.

    But, there’s a woman out there running around with my driver’s license, and maybe yours, too. I’m looking to somehow subpoena the bank for the tape of this woman so I can go after her, as I’ve already successfully tracked down one car thief and one hit and run driver — among others — both of whom were subsequently prosecuted, thank you, me.

    Why would I have to subpoena it? Get this: “privacy” rights of the woman. She steals my money and they have it on tape and they’re worried about her privacy?!

  12. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Oh, sorry – it’s a fake license in my name. The private investigator I spoke to said you can buy them easily around L.A.’s MacArthur Park. Also available on the Internet from the U.K. From all states.

  13. AD8BC says:

    @IphtashuFitz: I agree. I write a ton less checks than I used to and use online bill pay but nothing is automated… I’m kind of anal, I want to know what is coming out before it does. I’m one of those people that check their accounts daily. The one or two times I caught fraud on my accounts I spotted it within 24 hours of it showing up.

    I do have checks around for the inevitable, including the IRS, the DMV, gifts, etc.

  14. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Another suggestion: If you live in California (or another state that allows it), get a security freeze on your credit.


  15. IphtashuFitz says:

    @muffinpan: Some banks are getting a little bit better with security for online bill pay. I have an account with Bank of America (yeah, don’t get me started) and I actually do like one of the security features they recently rolled out. You can set up your account so that when you want to log in it has to send you a 6-digit code to your cellphone. You have to log in using your username, pin, and that 6-digit code that can be used only once and expires within 10 minutes. So even if I’m a target of phishers or keyloggers they’d need to also intercept the SMS to my cellphone or physically steal it in order to successfully log into my account. It’s sort of a poor-mans RSA SecureID system, and since lots of people have cell phones these days it works quite well.

  16. matt1978 says:

    @Terrminal: Nice job on not knowing how things work. Even consumers have the ability to scan checks at home. YOU = FAIL

  17. Amy Alkon000 says:

    P.S. I pay almost everything (phone bills, TV, cell phone) on my Visa card, which gets me airline miles and which I pay off in full every month by transferring money from my checking account. I suggest this as an alternative to checks. I have to pay the gas company through my checking account (I do this online), and I have to write a physical check for the electric bill, but I’d pay both them a service charge to be able to pay with my credit card online.

  18. sponica says:

    I use checks to pay rent, the landlord doesn’t exactly take credit cards. I also use checks to pay my VS Angels card bill, it forces me to go to the store and actually pay the bill on time instead of sayingg “oh i’ll just pay it online.” I’ll also use checks to renew my magazine subscriptions. I use checks whenever I’m dealing with a government agency, as I’ll have a carbon copy proving I wrote the check.

  19. Landru says:

    @AD8BC: Why wouldn’t the bad guys just sign the check “J. P. Doe”?

  20. humphrmi says:

    @Amy Alkon: I read in a previous interview with Frank Abagnale that he does this too.

    I use my bank’s online bill pay with Quicken; it’s basically Checkfree, which in and of itself has it’s own problems (they issue unsigned drafts to some payees) but if you pay your smaller bills with a credit card, then use one of these services to pay your credit card, the payment gets sent electronically (Checkfree has “deals” to pay big companies like Citi and WaMu electronically).

  21. Terrminal says:

    @matt1978: @matt1978:

    How stupid of me to base my opinion on the check-handling process of an electronics retailer with over 5,000 stores. I have a hard time imagining that any reputable company who does use direct electronic debiting doesn’t have a system in place to securely store “cashed” checks. YOU = JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

    I still agree that checks aren’t that smart to use in general, just pointing out that the author’s assumption that checks are stored in a pile in some random warehouse is a bit tinfoil hat-ish.

  22. Invalid_User_Name says:

    I agree with Frank: I stopped using checks after a Bank of America employee sold all of my personal information to her ring, and the identity theft problems continue a year later. I haven’t used checks in over 1.5 years and have only had one person question me on that.

    Anyhoo….checks are a legacy payment method from the days prior to the Internets and identity theft. Pay bills online and you’ll never forget who you wrote that missing check to. And it’s not your signature, address, and account number on the online payment.

  23. Invalid_User_Name says:

    @Amy Alkon: Oh shame on me for reading the other comments after I posted mine. AMY — I have had a nearly identical situation happen to me at BANK OF AMERICA.

    I will contact you separately from your blog.

  24. Sasha_Pie says:

    @Invalid_User_Name: BofA’s ranks must be ripe with identity thieves. The only time I’ve ever had someone fraudently try to use a credit card of mine, it was my BofA platinum card, which I had NEVER used. Never paid a bill with it, never charged a cup of coffee, never bought anything online. No one but me and BofA (and Experian?) knew the credit card number or that it was inactive. The person that stole the info probably thought that I wouldn’t notice the bad charge until I got a statement in the mail. Luckily, BofA did the right thing and called me to verify a $2000 charge from an Audi dealership in CT (I live in NY). I wonder if their red flag matrix knew that I’m a Toyota FTW type of woman…

    I pay all my bills online. But I still use checks for graduation/wedding gifts and I occasionally pay my boyfriend’s credit card bill with a check when he gives me the cash. Writing checks is annoying (and apparently fraught with danger). I could absolutely live without them.

  25. Buran says:

    Personally, I only use checks for paying things like the DMV that don’t take credit cards (and why not I don’t know, in 2008).

    I do not get courtesy checks from my credit card accounts as I’ve opted out.

    I disabled all of the paper bills I can and have them sent as ebills to my bank, and pay them with electronic transfers.

    For things where I need a paper check sent to someone, I use bill pay for that as well and the bank cuts a check and mails it and it’s not directly from me.

    This makes it impossible (or nearly so; my car loan still doesn’t offer ebilling) to steal my mail and get any of my account numbers or credit information, and there ARE no paper checks to steal out of my mail.

    I took care of my taxes with Turbotax courtesy of State Farm, and there never were any paper statements or checks for those except for my payment to the state. My refund check was never sent through the mail and was sent directly to my bank account and electronically transferred out to its final destination of savings and ebills.

    Suck it, mail thieves!

  26. @Amy Alkon: and all my teeth, thanks.)

    What’s with the uncalled for teeth comment there lady? Is there something wrong with people missing teeth? Yeah, I may be missing teeth, but only because they were knocked out in a freak accident. I hope you never have to worry about smiling or have to look at yourself in the mirror when you go to bed or wake up and see missing teeth.

  27. cmhbob says:

    @Git Em SteveDave: Gee, considering there were other descriptive tags in her comment, I’d guess the thief was an overweight black woman missing teeth?

  28. x23 says:

    weird… my calendar says it is 2008 now… but i am reading about “checks” as if it was actually 1928.

    nothing is worse than accidentally ending up in line behind some septuagenarian who sits and waits until the items are totalled before even *starting* the check… huh? like the cashier is going to say “the total is $94.02 and… SURPRISE! you’ve been teleported to a whole new store with a whole new name and it’s a completely different day now!” seriously? if you are inexplicably still using checks… fill them out in the car before you even enter the GD store.

    thank god more and more stores are putting up the worlds most glorious signage : “We No Longer Accept Personal Checks” … HOORAY! about time.

  29. Pink Puppet says:

    @Amy Alkon: You have quite the vitriolic blog, don’t you? Yikes. Ever thought of moderating your hate-on for Muslims, just a little?

  30. joellevand says:

    @pinkpuppet: Gah, Amy Alkon’s page just made me throw up.

    Way to not know a damn thing about Islam. I’m sure if someone made a post as flat-out wrong about Christianity, you’d be throwing a tantrum.

    Disclaimer: I am not a Muslim and definitely not an Imam. I just read religious books for fun and enlightenment.

    Islam, as a religion, does not advocate violence or many of the other stereotypes associated with it. Their rules about women are still backwards, but there are modern Islamic women and men making strides to change their record regarding women’s rights.

    Perhaps if you read the Quran, you’d know something about it.

  31. elisa says:

    Frank Abagnale wrote a whole book about it, I saw it at my local library:


  32. Pink Puppet says:

    @joellevand: I don’t know a great deal about Islam, honestly. I’m not into other people’s religions, yet even I know Alkon’s got some deep-seated issues that one might suggest she address with professional help.

  33. BlackFlag55 says:

    I use cash for virtually every transaction, e-Banking for what I can’t and the balance I use USPS money orders. Yes, I do. Got a family member DEEP into the nation’s infrastructire for cyber security and frankly, according to him, there ain’t a helluva lot of security left to us. It’s pretty much Swiss-cheese wherever you turn.

    Now, as to the fake religion of ‘Islam’. Alkon does not have deep seated issues. Alkon is blogging important issues. Hw curious that defense of the realm is cause for stating she needs ‘professional’ help … quite the communist slave state mentality, there. Why, one can almost hear re-education! at her pink tribunal.

    Islam is, whole-cloth, a religious justification for Arab domination of lands and peope subjugated by violent warfare, without quarter or mercy. The ‘Prophet’ is not Mohammed, that is a title, as in The Praised One. The man’s name is Ubu’l Kassim and he did not come from Mecca. He was a bandit chieftain from what is now southern Jordan. When Jews would not submit to his will, religious genocide became the rule of this intransigent cult. And reading the Koran illumines these very points.

    Surely, a little historical research is in order rather than slander against a woman who is doing admirable work blogging.

  34. battra92 says:

    I despise the fact that I have to write one or two checks a month. About 30% of the checks I write are to my dad anywa and the rest is because of some arcane MA law that prevents me from paying my car insurance online.

  35. alice_bunnie says:

    I had a check to the IRS for my taxes last year lost in the mail. :/ Yep, the one with both my and my husbands social security numbers on it. :/ It’s still floating out there somewhere. They didn’t offer auto debit last year. You bet I did auto debit this year.