Many consumers are concerned about being scammed, and wondering how to protect their bank account details. It’s smart to wonder what a scammer could do with your bank info, because those numbers and passwords may not be as secure as you think.
The best way to protect your bank account is knowledge plus a few proactive steps.
Here, we’ll look at what the risks are and what steps you can take to keep your accounts safe. Our goal is to minimize the odds of your bank account and routing numbers falling into the wrong hands and cheating you out of your money.
What Can Someone Do With Your Bank Account Number Alone?
Many of us wonder, “What can someone do with my bank account number?” The good news is, if someone has only your bank account number, that won’t give them enough intel to do any damage. It’s not the same as a scammer obtaining your credit card digits. No one will be able to withdraw money from your personal bank account if all they have is your account number.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t protect your bank account number. You should. If a scammer had your account number and other info — perhaps your driver’s license number and/or your home address — they might be able to make illegal purchases online. So it pays to be vigilant.
Routinely monitoring your account activity — say, once a week — is a smart move that allows you to quickly detect if anything is awry.
Recommended: Guide to Keeping Your Bank Account Safe Online
What Can Someone Do With Your Bank Account and Routing Number?
The short answer: Real damage! The combination of a bank account and a routing number is a dangerous combo that scammers want. There’s a difference between these numbers, but put them together in the wrong hands and a mastermind of mischief can cause financial mayhem. Just think about how often these numbers get circulated: every time a check is written, cashed, signed over to someone else!
So get set for some scary truths about what someone can do with your bank and routing numbers.
With both those precious numbers, crooks could commit fraudulent ACH (which stands for automated clearing house) transfers and payments. You’re probably used to seeing those ACH letters on your banking details when you set up automatic monthly payments and the like. When a scammer has your bank account and routing numbers, they could set up bill payments for services you’re not using or transfer money out of your bank account.
It’s tough to protect these details because your account number and routing number are printed right at the bottom of your checks. But do your best. Some pointers: Don’t leave your checkbook lying around, obviously, and if you are mailing a check, wrap it in a sheet of blank paper so the numbers don’t show as it’s in transit. Checks do present a risk factor, which is all the more reason to pay attention to bank statements often to see if there are any fishy transactions happening.
One of the best ways to protect yourself when online banking is to be sure your passwords and login names are strong. That password is a primary defense. If a thief has your bank and routing numbers and somehow manages to get access to your login name and password, big trouble may be on the horizon.
You know the drill on this one: Don’t make your password something obvious like your name, pass1234, or numbers that may be circulating in cyberspace, like your birthday which can be seen on Facebook.
Be careful where you shop. All online retailers aren’t equal. Some retailers will allow you to make a purchase with bank account information alone, while others will also ask for a driver’s license or other state identification if you are using a bank account. If someone has your bank account and routing numbers, they can find sites that let them shop and could run up a tab.
While it might seem like a dream come true if a mysterious sum of money appeared in your bank account, you should be more alarmed than overjoyed. Somebody may be using you to facilitate their illegal shenanigans (also known as money laundering). Report unusual deposits immediately.
Create Fraudulent Checks
Scammers can create fake checks using your checking numbers, and then those fake checks to pay for purchases — or simply cashing them. Know, too, that with technology scammers could digitally scan the check and deposit the amount into their bank account.
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What to Do When Someone Has Your Account Number
As careful as you try to be, stuff happens. What if someone gets a hold of your bank account number? What if you see signs that they are using it for fraudulent transactions? Knowing what to do in the case of real identify theft can help mitigate a bad situation. Have a strategy in place, just in case. Here’s some advice.
Contact Relevant Agencies
If you have the misfortune of being victimized, contact your bank the minute you realize it. Whether your checkbook was stolen or there’s been a data breach at a retailer who has that info stored, understand that the clock is ticking. You need to notify your bank within 60 days of your statement to avoid paying for unauthorized ACH transactions. The bank’s fraud department will be your new best friend as they will work diligently to help you get unauthorized charges reversed.
The bank is just your first call. Report the fraud to the fraud department of all three credit reporting agencies, Equifax , Experian , and TransUnion . File a report with your local police department, and the Federal Trade Commission’s department that deals with identity theft.
Your to-do list doesn’t end there. You’ll want to be a stickler about monitoring your bank account to look for any signs that someone else is abusing your account. Be proactive and ask your bank about setting up text messages or push notifications every time a transaction is posted. This will help you keep track of what’s going on with your money.
Much as you may not be a paper person, when you’re a victim of bank fraud, documentation matters. You want copies of bank statements, a copy of the police report, your credit report, and any other relevant materials.
Cancel Your Account
As much as it’s a hassle, you need to get a new account number to replace the compromised one. Call your bank’s customer service number or, if you use a bricks-and-mortar bank, go to your local branch. Explain your situation, and take steps to get your assets transferred to a new bank account, get new checks printed, and get a new debit if needed to safeguard your moolah.
Tips on Avoiding Bank Fraud
There are no absolutes in life, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself as much as possible. You can get an identity theft protection service to monitor your bank accounts and alert you to any funny business, be it suspicious withdrawals or information changes.
Secondly, when shopping online, use a credit card (it offers more protection than say a debit card), prepaid card, or a money transfer app instead of typing in your account and routing numbers. Be stingy with your banking information to avoid bank scams. Know that less is best when it comes to sharing info: Avoid giving your account and routing numbers to people you don’t know.
Another tip to prevent fraud: Go for multi-factor authentication when banking online. If you have linked bank accounts and credit or debit cards to online platforms, absolutely sign up for additional verification in order for purchases to go through. It’s like a forcefield around your account.
Lastly, paper is so yesterday. Limit your use of paper checks to only those things where an alternate form of payment is a hassle. Remember your checks are a gold mine of personal information, with your address, account and routing numbers.
In today’s world, it pays to keep close tabs on your bank accounts. Just having your bank account number or a routing number in the public domain isn’t the end of the world. But both of them? That’s an uh-oh. There are all kinds of ways that scammers can do damage if they get hold of both your account and routing numbers. By protecting these digits and setting up other safeguards, you’ll minimize the odds of your falling victim to these wily thieves.
Let SoFi Take Great Care of Your Money
Putting aside some of the darker aspects of banking, like fraud, scams, and so forth, let’s look on the bright side now. With SoFi Checking and Savings, we make sure you and your money are treated with TLC. Set up direct deposit, and you’ll earn a competitive APY. And, not to brag, but we don’t charge any monthly or minimum-balance fees, which helps your money grow faster.
Which bank details should I keep secret?
Protect your bank account and routing numbers to avoid having scammers siphon money away from you. Setting up two-factor authentication for online transactions can help protect you, too. It goes without saying that no one except you should know your username, password, and security questions. Another area where mum’s the word: Records of your financial transactions. Shred documents as needed.
Is it safe to give out your account details?
Share your banking information sparingly, especially online. At best, share a few key points with a trusted friend or family member, and only punch your details into secure websites (look for the “https” at the beginning of the url) — though even those aren’t 100% scam-proof.
Can I give out my routing number?
A bank routing number in and of itself reveals very little. After all, it’s a nine-digit code used by financial institutions to identify other financial institutions. It’s very much public information, and only becomes a risk factor when paired with other personal details.
Can someone steal your money with your bank account number?
Typically, a scammer would need more than just a bank account number to steal your money, but as we just mentioned, routing numbers are easily found. With those two pieces of information, a crook could use those numbers on some websites to purchase goods or otherwise defraud you.
Can someone withdraw money with an account number and sort code?
Sort codes are six-digit banking numbers commonly used in the UK. Along with an account number, they can be used to set up direct debits from your account, usually only by trusted organizations. However, there is always a risk of a scammer infiltrating the best protections, so it’s wise to keep an eye on your bank account.
Photo credit: iStock/AJ_Watt
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