Having worked for a major regional bank for over four years, I was able to see first-hand how awful using paper checks is in today’s world. A paper check is a terrible choice and should not be used by anyone except for a rare occasion. Here are three reasons you should get rid of your paper checks, or at least lock them away, and use a debit card instead.
Your routing number and account number should be private
With the proliferation of the ability to pay using a check by phone, the opportunities for check fraud rise dramatically. During my tenure at the bank, I saw several instances where a client would write someone a check. The fraudster would then use the routing and account numbers to pay their own bills using the numbers along the bottom of that check, effectively stealing the client’s money. Sometimes this would go unnoticed by an absent or elderly client for months before detection.
With a debit card, your routing and account numbers remain anonymous. Should the debit card numbers be compromised, our security computers catch it quickly, freeze the card, and a security officer calls you to confirm activity. None of this happens with checks unless a teller smells a rat or the amount is truly huge.
Check fraud is harder to handle than debit card fraud
To dispute a check, you have to visit a branch office or write a letter to a corporate office. A debit card transaction could be disputed with a few clicks of the mouse. While this may not be true for all banks, it is not a unique practice to my former employer. Many clients were outraged to learn that disputing a paper check is a lengthy and time-consuming process.
Lost or stolen checks are a nightmare
Think about it. Your purse is stolen. The first question I will ask is, what check numbers do we need to place a stop on? No one, in four years, ever knew what numbers were on their checks when they were lost or stolen. Even if you could remember, the thief could simply make up new check numbers and use the routing and account numbers to drain your account. In these cases, we always advised the client to open a new account. Once your routing and account numbers are compromised, killing them off is the only way to guarantee security to your funds.
However, it is extremely easy to shut down a lost or stolen check card. It can be done immediately and totally, rendering the card worthless. This cannot be done with paper checks with any degree of success. All a thief needs is the correct routing and account numbers and he can pay his own bills for the life of the account.
So when is it safe to give out a check?
The truth is, almost never. I have used a paper check for two purposes. First, you will need to give a canceled paper check to begin direct deposit with an employer. Your employer should be a trustworthy entity. Second, you can write a paper check to anyone you trust with the entire balance of your bank account. I write paper checks to my own mother and that is all.
In short, paper checks are a horrible product that greatly compromises the safety of your bank balance. I used to cringe when I’d see a client defrauded of hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. In almost all cases, the simple use of a debit card, with it’s unique and disposable numbers, would have avoided the entire fiasco. So lock them up, and save yourself the hassles of paper checks.