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View Full Version : Can someone steal money with just a bank routing and account number?


Cagey Drifter
07-05-2007, 02:20 PM
If someone has just your bank routing and account number, can they steal money from you? If so, how do they do it? What are the security measures in place to prevent it?

pulykamell
07-05-2007, 02:36 PM
If someone has just your bank routing and account number, can they steal money from you? If so, how do they do it? What are the security measures in place to prevent it?

I would hope not since most (if not all) personal checks contain both pieces of information on them.

Smitty
07-05-2007, 02:37 PM
That's all you need to order checks from certain third party vendors. If you could get a fake ID, you could pass them.

sturmhauke
07-05-2007, 02:44 PM
Yes. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=294248) It happened to me a few years ago. I don't know if any security procedures have been added since then, but there sure didn't seem to be any at the time.

What seems to have happened is that someone stole outgoing mail from our mailbox, and got checking account and credit card numbers that way. Then they used that information to set up electronic payments for stuff they wanted, leaving us with the charges. We had to change all our account numbers and transfer the balance over, but we did in the end get refunded for the fradulent charges. We also started sending mail only through actual Post Office drop points to prevent theft that way, but now we've moved to a different apartment that has its own drop point.

Wee Bairn
07-05-2007, 02:48 PM
That's all you need to order checks from certain third party vendors. If you could get a fake ID, you could pass them.

Are these type check vendors required to verify the info they receive? If not, why do banks accept them? You wouldn't even need to get the fake ID if you are paying by check through the mail.

CookingWithGas
07-05-2007, 02:55 PM
I pay my state taxes online and all they require is a routing/transit number and the account number. However, they know whose taxes you are paying, so it's not like you are going to run away with merchandise.

Are these type check vendors required to verify the info they receive? I think they may require a voided check for your first order. But all you'd have to do is steal a check.

Cagey Drifter
07-05-2007, 02:59 PM
All this is rather shocking in this day and age.

Uncommon Sense
07-05-2007, 03:23 PM
All this is rather shocking in this day and age.
Right, another reason to do away with checks altogether.

Harriet the Spry
07-05-2007, 04:14 PM
Yes. (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=294248) It happened to me a few years ago. I don't know if any security procedures have been added since then, but there sure didn't seem to be any at the time.

What seems to have happened is that someone stole outgoing mail from our mailbox, and got checking account and credit card numbers that way. Then they used that information to set up electronic payments for stuff they wanted, leaving us with the charges. We had to change all our account numbers and transfer the balance over, but we did in the end get refunded for the fradulent charges. We also started sending mail only through actual Post Office drop points to prevent theft that way, but now we've moved to a different apartment that has its own drop point.

It seems like the perpetrator here had access to a lot more than your check routing and account numbers .

t-bonham@scc.net
07-05-2007, 04:16 PM
Right, another reason to do away with checks altogether.Oh, bull! And replace them with what?

At least with paper checks, I can point to the bottom and say 'that signature is not mine' and easily show they are fraudulent. It's a lot harder for EFT, Paypal, online or phone credit cards, etc.

I've been paying bills by check for over 40 years now, and never had a fraud case. I've used credit cards for far fewer years, but have had 2 cases where somebody many states away was charging things to my credit card. And it took a lot of effort to get those charges reversed.

Harriet the Spry
07-05-2007, 04:19 PM
I think they may require a voided check for your first order. But all you'd have to do is steal a check.

Additionally, they mail the new checks to the address on the old check. The weakness is in the security of the mailbox. So you would need to steal a blank check, then commit the federal crime of stealing the new checks from the mailbox. In a practical sense, many people's mailboxes are not secure, though.

Mike Fun
07-05-2007, 04:55 PM
Not only is it possible, it's extremely easy via EFT. I won't elaborate on how to do so, but at my work I have seen it happen many times.

sturmhauke
07-05-2007, 05:21 PM
Not only is it possible, it's extremely easy via EFT. I won't elaborate on how to do so, but at my work I have seen it happen many times.
That seems to have been what happened to me. The bank pretty much said that it was the most likely explanation.

Geek Mecha
07-05-2007, 05:40 PM
I assume this is what happened with my checking account last year. Someone started passing checks with my account and routing numbers, but entirely different names, addresses, phone numbers, signatures, and check designs. They passed about a dozen checks worth several hundred dollars. Since I rarely pay anything but rent and utilities with checks and I've never been told my payment wasn't received, I suspect a bank statement (containing cancelled checks) was stolen out of my mailbox.

Thieves suck and should burn in hell, etc., but I am most upset with my bank for not having sirens going off and red flags waving when those obviously different checks appeared. Apparently, the discrepancies raised no alarms, and if they did, no one checked into it or deeply enough. It's the primary reason I'm leaving that bank. (I live in a better, more secure apartment now, too.)

Gfactor
07-05-2007, 06:02 PM
As a poster: When providing over the phone a checking account number and a bank routing number (numbers reproduced at the bottom of the check), you are giving the caller the opportunity to withdraw money from your account as if you had written a check. In most states, including Michigan, you can pre-authorize a draft from your checking account. This occurs when you provide your checking account and bank routing numbers and authorize a certain amount of money to be withdrawn from your account. Your signature is not required for money to be drawn out of a checking account in this manner. Demand drafts closely resemble checks and are processed through the check clearing system, which handles millions of items daily.

http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,1607,7-164-34739_20942-122462--,00.html

Factual answer: Under some circumstances, yes, that's enough information for some people to get money from your account.

Gfactor
07-05-2007, 06:04 PM
As a moderator:

Let's keep the discussion about whether it's possible and refrain from discussing methodology.

Gfactor, General Questions Moderator

Common Tater
07-05-2007, 06:26 PM
...but I am most upset with my bank for not having sirens going off and red flags waving when those obviously different checks appeared. Apparently, the discrepancies raised no alarms, and if they did, no one checked into it or deeply enough. It's the primary reason I'm leaving that bank. (I live in a better, more secure apartment now, too.)

I don't believe this is a good reason to leave a bank, not at all. Checks are machine read and processed, so there isn't anything to be gleaned by green, sparkly checks one day and something completely different the next. This is the same reason post-dating checks doesn't work nor mean anything legally. To further add insult to injury, modern banking regulations just enacted by congress makes a written check, theoretically at least, payable on the spot or very nearly so.

ASAKMOTSD
07-05-2007, 07:08 PM
As a manager of mine (an EVP of a Credit Union) said to me long ago when I would come up with various ways that people could steal from the CU: "Never embezzle with a check. It passes through too many hands."

bob_co
07-05-2007, 08:09 PM
I know a person who was a door to door salesman for bottled water. Part of the contract agreement for what he was selling was an authorazation for automatic withdrawl of the monthly bill. Apparently this gave him the routing and account numbers for hundreds of accounts. Someone stole this information from one of the business computers without being noticed and they literally printed their own checks for about a year and a half before being caught.

psychonaut
07-05-2007, 08:12 PM
I'm not denying that it's possible, but I can testify that it's so unlikely as not to deter companies in continental Europe from printing this information on their letterhead. I worked for three years for a German university research institute, and our bank, routing number, and account numbers were printed for all to see on the official letterhead we used for all correspondence. Similarly, whenever I received a letter from a company, government agency, or sometimes even an individual, this information would be included along with the return address and phone number.

Balthisar
07-05-2007, 09:05 PM
I'm not denying that it's possible, but I can testify that it's so unlikely as not to deter companies in continental Europe from printing this information on their letterhead. I worked for three years for a German university research institute, and our bank, routing number, and account numbers were printed for all to see on the official letterhead we used for all correspondence. Similarly, whenever I received a letter from a company, government agency, or sometimes even an individual, this information would be included along with the return address and phone number.
Even in fraud-prone Mexico this is standard practice. It's how I paid my rental deposit for a job a few years ago; it's how I paid the fishing charter; and it's how a lot of companies prefer big payments.

Geek Mecha
07-05-2007, 11:41 PM
I don't believe this is a good reason to leave a bank, not at all. Checks are machine read and processed, so there isn't anything to be gleaned by green, sparkly checks one day and something completely different the next. This is the same reason post-dating checks doesn't work nor mean anything legally. To further add insult to injury, modern banking regulations just enacted by congress makes a written check, theoretically at least, payable on the spot or very nearly so.
Granted, but I no longer feel secure with them.

si_blakely
07-06-2007, 03:04 AM
I'm not denying that it's possible, but I can testify that it's so unlikely as not to deter companies in continental Europe from printing this information on their letterhead. I worked for three years for a German university research institute, and our bank, routing number, and account numbers were printed for all to see on the official letterhead we used for all correspondence. Similarly, whenever I received a letter from a company, government agency, or sometimes even an individual, this information would be included along with the return address and phone number.In the UK, account and sort code info are NOT sufficient information to allow withdrawal from an account (anyone can put money in). Companies that operate Direct Debit require your signed authority and (as a company) must be vetted by the banks before they can operate in that manner. Otherwise, banks cannot move money out of your account without additional identification. These days, this info will be much more than public information (like date of birth/mothers maiden name etc). I'm hopeful that banks will start using security tokens to validate access (private code plus personal time varying code) to really make things secure.

Si

Mangetout
07-06-2007, 03:16 AM
Right, another reason to do away with checks altogether.
Speaking of which, I was mildly surprised the other day to see a sign in Sainsburys (one of the big supermarket chains in the UK) stating that they will no longer be accepting cheques as payment from 1st August. I guess it had to happen sooner or later and I suppose it makes perfect sense - since they always require a cheque guarantee card now, and those cards are nearly always their own means of payment anyway (they're typically credit or debit cards).

Ottoerotic
07-06-2007, 06:01 AM
If someone has just your bank routing and account number, can they steal money from you? If so, how do they do it? What are the security measures in place to prevent it?

Short answer, yes technically they can, and short of never using bank accounts there isn't much you can do to prevent it.

The good news is that you are pretty well protected in most cases. The worst possible scenario is someone simply printing checks of their own with your info on them and signing them as was already mentioned. This requires the theif to actually perform the fraud in person though and they run the risk of being asked for ID or being caught on camera. More often than not the thieves prefer to simply use the numbers to do ACH transactions. The good news about this is that as long as you report the fraudulent activity within 60 days of receiving the statement there is nearly a 100% chance of you getting all of your money back in a very short time.

Is it possible to steal your money and get away with it? Of course it is, there is a gentleman from Ohio that has been doing it for at least 6 years across the country and will probably never get caught. I won't get into exactly how he does it, but it does involve raiding the mailboxes of people who put those little red flags up. Even in this worst case scenario though, the customer is made whole again very quickly. (Its actually easier in this specific case because most fraud officers at major banks can recognize this particular felon's handwriting)

So it is an issue, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

Common Tater
07-06-2007, 06:13 AM
Granted, but I no longer feel secure with them.

But, you'll be no more secure with a different bank. Just sayin'.

CookingWithGas
07-06-2007, 07:21 PM
I...they literally printed their own checks for about a year and a half before being caught.That's interesting. The numbers at the bottom are printed in special magnetic ink. I suppose if the machine can't read it, it just goes to manual rather than triggering a fraud alert.

Ottoerotic
07-06-2007, 09:54 PM
True they are printed with Micr ink which has magnetic properties, however with so many small businesses out there doing their own payroll the ink isn't as inaccessible as it used to be. You can also enter the numbers and there are enough bank issued checks that use cheap ink so that it isn't unusual for a cashier to manually punch in the numbers.

hlanelee
07-06-2007, 10:03 PM
In January 2004, Mrs.lanelee did a "check over the phone" transaction. She gave out the account number and routing number and they had a recording of her okay the transaction. I did not know that this took place and in April 2005 a counter check was issued so I called the bank to find out how and why. I was told that Mrs.lanelee had authorized the transaction that month and the bank was shocked, shocked I tell you, to find out that Mrs.lanelee had died in June 2004.

t-bonham@scc.net
07-07-2007, 01:24 AM
That's interesting. The numbers at the bottom are printed in special magnetic ink. I suppose if the machine can't read it, it just goes to manual rather than triggering a fraud alert.You can buy a toner cartridge for most of the major laser printers containing micr ink, so it's pretty easy to print real, MICR-encoded checks at your laser printer. There are several software packages to let you do this -- VersaCheck is one of the biggest.

But the magnetic toner is hardly necessary. Nearly all the bank check-sorting machines now have the capability top do both MICR reading and normal OCR scans on those numbers. (Back in 1954, when MICR was designed, OCR reading was primitive & unreliable, so they went with the magnetic ink.) If it doesn't read with the MICR, they just get the OCR read of those printed numbers. All automatic, never even noticed by the bank employees. There might be a few banks out in the sticks with real old machines, that do require manual intervention, but they pretty rare now.

Ottoerotic
07-07-2007, 06:34 AM
Yes, I neglected to mention that banks can certainly read it regardless of the ink used. Most grocery stores and the like however, at least the ones around here, have older equipment and if the check doesn't have the micr ink they're forced to enter it by hand. Since they do this frequently though, it doesn't usually raise any suspicion or concern on the merchants end.