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I have been thinking about how unsafe a checking account is. Every time you give a check to someone, you are providing your routing number, your account number, your bank, and your name, so I really do not understand what stops a thief from retrieving part of the capital. He can just take the checking account number and the routing number and transfer funds from my account to his. Is this right? what is the best way to protect yourself?

As a side thought, I was thinking to create a separate checking or savings account which I would use for money transfers, and keep my checking account to the bare minimum. Is this a common strategy?

  • I just want to ensure that my checking account is safe from unauthorized withdrawels. – Richard Daugs Sep 10 '17 at 23:01
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    I don't know how ACH works in the US, but with the equivalent in the UK, you can't just "choose" whose account money is to come out from. I can only setup a payment from my account (because I've logged-in to online banking or have identified myself in-branch). – TripeHound Sep 11 '17 at 8:37
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ACH transfers are reversible and traceable. So what's stopping them is the ease and the speed with which they would be caught.

When you give a check - you have to provide some information to the payee so that they could cash it. You can't withhold the bank or the account number - how would they charge you? So it has to be on it, and if it is on it - it can be put on any other (fake) check.

That is why checks come also with your signature, and are always available for you to inspect when they're cashed. If you notice something out of the ordinary (check you didn't give? ACH transfer you didn't authorize?) on your statement - it is your responsibility to notify the bank within X period of time (60 days, I think) of the statement, and it will be dealt with.

So the best way to protect yourself would be to keep an eye on your account and verify that the transactions that you see are all authorized, and do it frequently. Keeping large amounts of cash on your checking account is never a good idea, regardless. Also, since checks are inherently unsafe - try to only give checks to people you trust, and use bill-pay or credit cards with anyone else.

  • And in the US a bank has 10 days to make a decision after you notify them. Be sure to visit a branch in person and speak with a human to notify them of an errant charge. – MrChrister Jan 11 '14 at 7:01
  • How about just recording your bank account and your routing number, and using it for direct transfers---without ever using a check, how the bank prevent this kind of illegal transfer from my account to the thief's? – Peretz Jan 11 '14 at 14:35
  • check is just a piece of paper on which you provide the information. The charge itself is going through computers in exactly the way you described. So the fraud detection and prevention is the same as well. – littleadv Jan 11 '14 at 20:37
  • so what happens when someone transfers money out of your account, and you notice it after a week but the money has already been taken by the thief in the transfered account. Is it a loss for the bank? or can they still reverse the transfer? – Peretz Jan 12 '14 at 16:18
  • @Peretz Its not your problem. If you notice and report it timely (as defined by your bank, usually 30-60 days after you receive the statement with the fraudulent transaction), it will be dealt with - and not at your expense. If the thief is not caught - the institution which initiated the fraudulent transaction without verifying eligibility will probably be held accountable, or, more likely, its insurance provider. – littleadv Jan 12 '14 at 20:52

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protected by Chris W. Rea Sep 10 '17 at 23:53

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