Your personal checks contain a good deal of information about you that can provide scammers and identity thieves with multiple ways to relieve you of money and even your good reputation. These are not pieces of paper – or even digital records – that you want to fall into the wrong hands.
The best way to avoid that is to securely store your unused checkbooks and unused checks – those blank checks that can still be written – and to totally destroy your old checkbooks and checks as well. You have a few options for doing that.
Video of the Day
Personal and Financial Information on Checks
Your name and address most likely appear at the top left side of your check. Your name might even be one that you use familiarly, such as "Joe Smith" rather than "Joseph Smith." These two bits of information tell a thief how you probably sign your name and where you live.
Destroying your old checks is a good way to help make sure your personal information isn't available for scam artists.
Your bank's routing number and your account number are printed at the bottom of the check, providing scammers with even more valuable information.
Even worse, a canceled check might show information that you were asked to provide when you wrote and issued it. You might have written in your Social Security number. This is a key component of identity theft schemes. You might have added your phone number or driver's license number. You don't want any of this to fall into the wrong hands and be a victim of check fraud.
Keeping Old Checks
Unwritten checks from closed accounts can be disposed of immediately, as soon as you close the bank account, but different rules can apply to checks you've written. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you hold on to most bank records for a year. But this extends to seven years for check payments for which you've claimed a tax deduction or credit, or for tax purposes or payments you made to the IRS, and South Carolina Federal Credit Union recommends keeping bank statements for three years.
Shred Your Checks Well
Let's say you've passed the recommended time period and you're ready to get rid of those paper checks. A common solution is to shred them. You can use a pair of scissors to cut them into small pieces. Make sure to snip through those pertinent pieces of information: your name, address, the bank routing number, your account number and your signature. You don't want anyone to be able to forge it.
You might want to purchase a paper shredder if your life is such that you have more financial records than just checks that you want to destroy. A confetti or cross-cut shredder is preferable. Or you can take the checks to someone else and have them shred them for you. Shredding services are commonly offered by banks, credit unions, other financial institutions and office supply stores.
Be sure to ask for your shredded documents if you elect to use a service or outside party to tear up your checks for you. Don't leave them behind.
Soak Checks in Bleach
Another disposal method is bleach, though this might not be the most green option. Soaking those old checks in bleach or in a combination of bleach and boiling water will make a lot of the information imprinted on them become illegible. But keep in mind that that bank routing number and your account number are printed using magnetic ink character recognition, or MICR technology, so this information can be very hard to destroy.
Disposing the Check Remains
You might want to take an additional step after you're finished cutting, shredding or bleaching. Ideally, you have a fireplace at your disposal. Dump the paper waste and saturated checks in there and light them on fire. That's a surefire way to ensure that none of the remains survive.
Consider using your barbecue grill if you don't have access to a fireplace. Just take care to be safe in either case. Don't heap all your shreds and papers in at once, creating a dangerous bonfire.
Don’t Forget Your Digital Copies
Issues of identity theft and fraud don't begin and end with paper checks. You'll want to take steps to protect the information contained in your digital records too.
PrivacyRights.org warns that deleting a file from your PC doesn't get rid of it, but you can purchase software that will do so. As for your old, no-longer-needed phone or tablet, you'll want to remove their memory and SIM cards and destroy them, then take an extra step and use settings to wipe out all memory and content.