My Checking Account Got Broken Into and How to Prevent It!
September 2, 2007
You heard that right; my checking account got broken into! To be more specific, someone tried to use an electronic check to take money from my checking account at Washington Mutual. This happened to me a couple weeks ago. I only noticed it because I never used this checking account for making payments. I only used it to transfer to my different savings accounts, brokerages, and direct deposit my paycheck. The electronic check was only for $19.95 but I caught it. Here’s a copy of the check (with my information hidden):
The check was treated as a regular check but with one key difference; they didn’t need my signature because it was an “electronic check”. So the bank paid it out. However, there were some other errors that probably should have flagged someone. First of all, my address was partially wrong. It was an old address with a current zip code. Also, the check number on this check was used a very long time ago (when I actually used checks). And obviously, my signature wasn’t on it.
I have no idea who could have gotten my checking account information but it could have came about any number of ways. Your account number and routing number of the bank is on every check that you use. Also, your employer has that same information if you use direct deposit. Not only that, any online accounts such as savings accounts, online brokerage accounts, etc. have that information if you do electronic ACH transfer. So a security breach at any one of those places could have let your information get out. Another possibility could be stealing the information from the debit card associated with that account but I never used it.
So what can you do to protect yourself? First of all, you should monitor your bank accounts closely (I do it daily) so that you’ll notice when something out of the ordinary happens. Plus, the quicker you catch it, the quicker you’ll get your money back and avoid missing any deadlines for reporting fraud activity. I caught mine the next day (Friday) and I went to my bank personally to file a fraud investigation on that transaction (you can also do it over the phone). The next Thursday, I got my refund of $19.95 plus the overdraft charge because the checking account was empty at the time.
Another thing you can do is to be careful who you write a check to, or better yet, don’t use checks at all. You should use your bank’s bill pay service because the checks that they send out don’t include your account information. Also be careful who you allow access into your checking account including businesses that collect bill payments from you, online savings and brokerage accounts and anything that would require your account information.
So if you notice anything that looks weird and could be possible fraud, act quickly and call up your bank. Monitor all of your accounts closely and you can also monitor your credit reports if you think it could be identity theft. The key is knowledge. Know your options, know the procedures, and know what’s going on! This post from the Consumerist states that 58% of American consumers don’t know online threats exist. Hope you don’t have to go through the hassle of closing down a checking account that is linked to so many other accounts like I did.
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