34

A while ago I had my bank issue me new checks due to a change of name (I got married). However I still have many hundreds of checks with the out of date info (they're an online bank and issue about 1000 checks at once, and I have several accounts with them).

Because these old checks are still valid (in date, and with my real account info on them) I do not feel comfortable just throwing them in the trash. However I do not have a shredder capable of shredding whole check books (and separating many hundreds of checks to shred individually would take a long time).

Is there a better way to dispose of these old checks? I have considered burning them but am fairly sure there are enough of them that doing so would set off my fire alarms (I live in an apartment complex where setting off the fire alarms will activate sprinklers in the entire building which is not desirable.)

I do not know if there is any kind of service that can securely destroy check books? Or if there is some norm of sending them back to the bank?

Failing that is there some way to securely dispose of them, either destroying them myself or taking them to someone (ideally in person or via a secure courier) who can destroy them for me, ideally with minimal expense and minimal risk of the checks or my identity being stolen?

(I did notice a few other questions which were similar, however they were about checks with were no longer valid, for closed accounts or after a change of account number, these are fully valid usable checks, just with the wrong name.)

  • 29
    Are you sure setting off the fire alarm will activate sprinklers for the whole building? That's a common movie trope, but my understanding is that in real life, in the vast majority of cases, fire suppression sprinklers are "always on" (i.e. they always have water under some pressure at the sprinkler) and are simply sealed with a plug that will melt with sufficient heat, releasing the water. – Clonkex Jun 6 at 6:06
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    Does your employer pay for commercial paper shredding service? Most large companies do - if they do, just take the checks to work and put them in the appropriate container. Your employer won't mind. – ventsyv Jun 6 at 15:05
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    @ventsyv I believe they do actually, there is certainly a "Sensitive or Secret" document bin with a secure slot much like a mailbox which I see being collected a couple times a week. I assumed it wasn't for employees. – Vality Jun 6 at 15:31
  • 3
    For creative answers, this should be asked on lifehacks.SE... My suggestion: buy a bottle of Indian ink and soak the checkbooks in there for a few hours. That's basically how some banknotes neutralization systems work. – mimo Jun 6 at 15:59
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    @Vality I would check with facility or your admin - I'll be very surprised if they say no. Where I work we have "secure shred" events twice a year where anyone can bring their documents from home. Even if your employer doesn't do that it's like using the printer to print a few pages of personal stuff once in a while - nobody will care. – ventsyv Jun 6 at 16:47

20 Answers 20

32

Simple: Use a secure shredding vendor. Some vendors offer different tiers with different disposal practices, for checks you would obviously want to choose the more (most) secure option.

Many office supply vendor chains offer secure shredding services - UPS Store, Office Depot, PostNet, and so on. Googling for your local branches should give you an idea of what's available in your area, and you can read their terms and conditions to determine if the shredding services they offer are secure enough for your comfort level.

In addition, there are vendors targeted specifically at document storage and/or shredding: Iron Mountain, Confidata, Proshred, and so on - again, a google search should tell you more.

Finally, some government waste disposal entities may offer secure shredding services - In the US, my local County recycling authority offers secure shredding if you bring your documents to one of their facilities according to their scheduled availability, and they will also hand you off to local secure shredding vendors if you have additional needs.

If you were especially paranoid, you could call your bank and get a stop payment placed on the range of check numbers for the checks you're destroying, although your bank will likely advise you that that's not necessary since you're shredding them.

  • 15
    Maybe the bank is willing to do the shredding too — customer service. – gerrit Jun 6 at 7:57
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    My wife's doctor's office has a secure shred bin in their waiting room. Since they deal with a lot of confidential medical documents that need to be safely destroyed, they have a commercial service and let patients use it too. – Seth R Jun 6 at 15:41
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    Stop payments usually incur a per-check fee, and don't last forever. – chepner Jun 6 at 20:13
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    It always amazes me that there are companies whose two main services are: (a) thoroughly destroying documents; (b) keeping documents very, very safe. That just seems like such a recipe for disaster. – David Richerby Jun 8 at 17:09
  • @DavidRicherby: Rather one of those companies than a chicken farm. – Kevin Jun 8 at 22:51
67

The norm for disposing of old checks is destroying them, if you really wanted a non-shredder option you could cut a significant portion off and just burn those, or dispose of larger pieces at separate times/locations.

However, with a name change you can typically just keep using them. Sign your new name. The name/address portion at the top is mostly a convenience. My wife (and many others) have done this without issue. Same goes for address, it's rarely referenced and acceptable to simply cross out and correct if desired.

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    While the second paragraph doesn't address the question asked, I upvoted because it is a great solution to this particular situation. It's always better to reduce waste. – Ian MacDonald Jun 6 at 13:17
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    Fact is that the name and address information on the top of a check is increasingly meaningless. I've had checks with only my name (no address or anything) with no issue and have also used checks from several addresses ago. It's nice for them to match, but no one is checking that stuff. – JPhi1618 Jun 6 at 15:50
  • 1
    Is there any reason you couldn't burn the whole checkbook, assuming you have a safe way to do so? Like, I have a firepit out back that I could just toss the book into -- is that illegal, or risky in some way I'm not seeing? – Nic Hartley Jun 6 at 16:15
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    @NicHartley Burn away! OP was just concerned about generating too much smoke in an apartment. – Hart CO Jun 6 at 16:17
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    @NicHartley Just keep in mind that, if you toss in the whole checkbook as is, there's a risk it might only partially burn, leaving some checks in the middle intact. If you separate pages you wouldn't have to worry about that though. – Anyon Jun 6 at 16:23
45

Use them to make papier mache. Place them in a bucket of water, let them sit for a while, stirring/mashing occasionally, until they become a pulp. Then either discard the mess, or use it creatively: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papier-m%C3%A2ch%C3%A9

  • 6
    I tried this with a stack of papers once. They sat for a week and still didn't want to 'mush'. I had to dry the whole mess out and burn it. If they don't mush, now you actually have to do paper mache (which means applying them one at a time to a structure and letting them dry) which is quite possibly the most time consuming thing you could do with them. – Mazura Jun 6 at 22:56
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    It seems like they would disintegrate much faster if you put them in boiling water, wouldn't they? I'm thinking, like, minutes rather than weeks. – Tanner Swett Jun 7 at 12:24
  • @Tanner Swett: Probably, but then you have the hassle of boiling them. – jamesqf Jun 9 at 17:37
36

Why on earth did you only consider burning them inside your apartment?

Go outside and find somewhere without many people. Could be a park, side of the road somewhere, even an alleyway if you can't easily get out of the city. (Improved idea from Geobits: if you're worried about lighting a fire just anywhere, or if there are local rules about it, many parks have areas for fires or barbecues.) And then light them.

If you've got a book of 1000 then you do need to stop them from just charring the outside ones and leaving the inside ones intact. If you stand the book up and fan them out in a semicircle, there's more surface area so they'll burn more efficiently.

If you've got a camping gas stove you can bring with you, burning them is even easier. Just put them on top of the stove and light it - the gas flame will make short work of them.

  • 4
    A large-ish metal can, like a coffee can, and a bit of lighter fluid. This will be fast work. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 8 at 11:34
20

At least in the UK (but I suspect also in the US), many offices use secure collections bins (see below) to dispose of confidential papers that are no longer needed. These are collected periodically by a service company and securely shredded (often essentially on-premises using a mobile shredder). The ones I've seen would be able to handle an unseparated chequebook, so if you (or a friend/relative you trust sufficiently) works in such a place, you/they could potentially dispose of your cheques there.

Secure paper collection bin

Source: Identity Destruction website (no affiliation: found through web-search).

  • 3
    And if you don't have one of these in your workplace or other place you can access, most office supply stores (Kinkos, Office Max, UPS, etc.) have document shredding services that aren't very expensive. – Seth R Jun 6 at 14:16
  • Thats actually handy to know. We do have something like this but I assumed it was only for the admin staff. – Vality Jun 6 at 15:41
  • 1
    These are present in many US offices as well. – Pete B. Jun 6 at 16:03
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    @Vality It would probably be best to ask if there's any doubt. – TripeHound Jun 6 at 16:08
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    @Tripe That's probably true, but on the other hand, they are secure disposal, so you're basically guaranteed that nobody is going to be looking at the stuff (assuming you trust the business). It's probably fine. – Cullub Jun 6 at 17:59
18

Take them to the bank branch, ask them to destroy the cheques for you.

  • 1
    They will either destroy them for you or (probably) tell you to just keep using them, but either way it's the only real place to get your answer. – user3067860 Jun 6 at 14:22
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    OP has an online bank "they're an online bank". – Rich Jun 6 at 14:59
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    @Rich Still probably a useful answer for anyone who wants to know how to destroy a lot of cheques in the future. – David Richerby Jun 8 at 17:11
8

Many neighborhoods/towns have a "shred day", "secure destruction day", or something similar where industrial-grade devices are made available to the public. Usually you'll go to the town hall or somewhere similar and there will be massive shredders or incendiary devices at your disposal to get rid of large volumes of sensitive documents. See if there's something like this available and just hold on to your checks until then.

Alternative answer: take them to your bank. Surely they have tons of paper to be destroyed on a regular basis.

Simple answer: soak the checkbooks in bleach and toss them.

Non-answer: Your account number isn't the most secret thing. You give it out every time you use a check. You could safely toss them and be fine.

  • Bleach good man. – Joshua Jun 7 at 22:46
8

You are overestimating the task of tearing up several thousand checks, and also overestimating the persistence of scavengers pawing through your garbage in search of treasure.

I faced the same problem when I had about 300 checks left over when I retitled more than several accounts. It really didn't take that long to tear them in fours and put them in with the garbage (not with the clean trash). Maybe 10 minutes, max. Multiply that by 10 (say you have 3,000 checks) and divide by two (one other person to help), that is an hour's work apiece. But tedious! And a little hard on the finger-nails.

So make it a game. Use creativity.

Put them in your cat's litter box (I have not tried this) and scoop them out with the poop and urine and put them in the poop bag. This will take several weeks, but they will be fragrant enough to be difficult to pass. If you don't have a cat, keep reading.

Better, put them in a large bucket with Cloxox or with paint (stir well), then put them in with the garbage. Make the garbage smelly and repulsive with grease, egg shells, decayed and slimy vegetables... and whatever else your creativity suggests.

This is maybe too elaborate and frivolous an answer, but it will absolutely keep anyone from searching through that garbage in the hope of finding treasure.

  • 9
    Strongly disagree. You might make the checks repulsive that way, but you won't render them unusable. "You see, Vality cut me this check for 50.000$ but when I got out of the car at home I dropped my wallet into the that big bucket of bio-waste I meant to put into the compost. Yeah, it looks and smells horrible, but at least the check is still legible and I won't need to bother Vality to write me a new one..." – CharonX Jun 6 at 13:20
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    I think you may have forgot to suggest freezing all the checkbooks with liquid nitrogen and smashing them with a hammer. – Xrylite Jun 6 at 14:49
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    @Xrylite I like it! This is under "whatever else your creativity suggests." Kudos. – ab2 Jun 6 at 15:35
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    @CharonX See edit, last sentence. The goal was not to make the checks unusable, but to illustrate that they can be made unfindable, (except possibly by the insane). Would you be willing to search through the mess I described? There are ways to make it even more repulsive, but in deference to people who may gag at the description, I leave that to the imagination. – ab2 Jun 6 at 15:39
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    @CharonX Your scenario isn't even necessary. A thief could use blank check stock and simply replicate the MICR line, even allowing them to change the name and address to match their fake ID. They could also use the account information to originate a fraudulent electronic ACH transaction. – user71659 Jun 8 at 18:02
6

The bank branch I occasionally visit has a secure disposal bin with a slot big enough to take chequebooks. This is freely available to customers, next to the ATMs/paying in machines inside the branch.

While your bank may be online only, they may be part of a larger bank that isn't (several online banks in the UK work this way). As a First Direct customer, going into a branch of HSBC (parent company) I reckon I could dispose of a handful of chequebooks securely without any trouble.

  • The OP has an online bank. But any bank would do... they are not going to look through it all to make sure it's one of theirs. – RedSonja Jun 11 at 8:09
  • @RedSonja yes, "First Direct" in my answer is an online-only bank, but part of a larger group; they occasionally make use of the group's facilities. This has got me out of a tricky situation in the past. – Chris H Jun 11 at 8:26
5

Is there a mechanical workshop close by?

One person with an oxyacetylene torch will make a burn through within seconds. Then just dump them regularly. Bring some donuts for the mechanics, ask them nicely, should get done within half a minute.

3

You need to ensure that you destroy your address and MICR to protect your privacy.

Simply tearing up the checks, using scissors, or a cheap strip cutting shredder are not sufficient; even improperly burned paper can be read. Here's a surefire method:

A person putting scraps of paper and a large amount of water into a kitchen blender. Will it blend?

2

Rip checks out of book. Rip in half. Put in garbage. Repeat.

As a teenager, I did this after my mom inherited a ton of stuff including thousands of checks. We sat on the floor talking, ripping out about five checks at a time, ripping them in half, and throwing them away. Maybe an hour?

Don't get fancy. Don't drive anywhere. Don't use special tools. Don't hire anyone. This takes less time than you are going to spend looking for alternatives.

  • Rip them in two - making sure the numbers are destroyed. Then dispose of the halves in two separate bins. – RedSonja Jun 11 at 8:11
2

I have checks with old addresses on them and they work just fine. All that matters is the routing and account numbers on the bottom.

Thus, There’s no need to shred old checks. If the account is open, they’ll work. If the account is closed, they won’t.

2

You already said the answer. Get a shredder. You should probably have one anyways. You should be able to shred 20 or 30 checks at a time without a problem with most shredders if you take the back cardboard off the checkbook. It should only take you a few minutes if the two of you do it together. One tears the checks, one feeds into the shredder. It'll be a whole lot less time than driving around town looking for a secure shred box, or making a fire in the back yard.

1

I would simply get a nice big tube of paper glue (the flowy stuff, not the quick-setting sticks) and spread liberally. Then off into the bin. Should make short work of it and be quick and fun.

If you want to get creative and really have thousands of cheques, you could get wallpaper paste; you mix that up with water anyway and can make it quite flowy, so it gets between all the paper just fine with little to no effort on your side.

  • Use them to wallpaper your smallest room. Leave felt pens there so your visitors can write random stuff on there while engaged. (Smallest room is Brit-speak for toilet.) – RedSonja Jun 11 at 8:13
1

Destroy them.

Put them in a garbage bag with water and dish soap for a few days. They will become unusable.

1

Why can't you just drive out of town and set them on fire somewhere?

0

If your office has a paper cutter, you could probably cut through a book of checks with that. Cut them into ten or so strips, collect them into ten piles, and throw the piles into ten different garbage cans throughout the city. If you're feeling extra paranoid, burn the ten piles in a barbeque pit, then throw the ten piles of ash into ten separate garbage cans. You also said that in the comments that your company has a paper shredding service, so you can use that, either by itself, or in combination with the above (that is, put the ten piles in the shredder on different days). You said that you're not sure they're for employees, but who else would they be for? (Maybe you meant "I don't think they're for employees' private use", but I don't think there's much marginal cost to throwing in some books of checks.)

  • 1
    Also, a sharp big knife (chinese vergetable cleaver...) will manage cutting a book off at the binding... – rackandboneman Jun 7 at 18:19
  • Also burn the 10 bags of garbage... – Harper Jun 7 at 23:20
0
  1. Ask a local bank to destroy them for you.
  2. Drill. Aim for one digit each in the account and check number.
  3. Fire. Find some kind of fireplace nearby and burn them there.
  4. Handsaw. Cut them into 4+ pieces pieces of roughly the same size.
  5. Rip them into 4+ pieces, 5-10 at a time. Takes about 20 minutes.
  6. Ink / Glue / Paint. Have fun.
  7. Hammer & Nail. Make lots of holes (10+).
-3

If you have a garbage disposal, it's a great way to shred paper (not plastic). Throw a few checks ripped in half every time you run it. Been doing it for a year and never had a problem.

  • 4
    How does this help someone who wants to destroy 1000 checks? – Nathan L Jun 6 at 16:40
  • 2
    More to the point, how is this any better than using a real paper shredder? If OP won't do that, they sure won't do this. – Beanluc Jun 6 at 22:43

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