If someone has access to both your bank account and routing number, they could make fraudulent ACH transfers and payments out of your account. In other words, you could wind up being scammed.
That’s why it’s so important to understand this aspect of your personal finances and protect your money. Read on to learn what happens if someone has your bank account number and routing number, what the risks are, and how to protect yourself.
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.
For those who may not know the difference between a bank account vs. a routing number, here’s the scoop:
• Your bank account number is the unique string of digits that identifies your particular account at a financial institution. Even if you have, say, multiple accounts at a bank, each will have its own distinct account number.
• Your routing number is the series of numerals that identifies your financial institution, or where the account is held.
Just because your bank account number alone doesn’t make you vulnerable doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protect it. 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.
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What Can Someone Do With Your Bank Account and Routing Number?
The short answer: Real damage. The combination of a bank account and routing number is a dangerous combo that scammers want. And those two numbers are fairly accessible. Think about how often these numbers get circulated: every time a check is written, cashed, signed over to someone else.
Here’s what can happen if they fall into the wrong hands.
With both those precious numbers, crooks could commit fraudulent automated clearing house (or ACH) 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.
• 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.
• Pay attention to bank statements. Review them often to see if there are any fishy transactions happening.
• Protect yourself when online banking by using strong passwords. 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.
• 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.
Know that all online retailers aren’t equal in terms of security measures. Some will allow people to make a purchase with bank account information alone, while others will also ask for a driver’s license or other state identification to add an additional layer of protection.
So what can a scammer do with your bank account number and routing number? They can find sites that let them shop with only that information. 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 who has your account and routing number may be using your digits to facilitate their illegal shenanigans (such as the kind of bank fraud known as money laundering). Report unusual deposits immediately.
Create Fraudulent Checks
Unfortunately, scammers can create fake checks using your checking numbers, and then those fake checks to pay for purchases (not every payee will verify a check) — 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 Bank Numbers
As careful as you try to be, stuff happens. What if someone has your bank account number and routing number? What if you see signs that they are using it for fraudulent transactions? Knowing how to report identity 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, here’s what to do:
• Contact your bank the minute you realize it. 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 work to help you get unauthorized charges reversed.
• Report the fraud to the fraud department of all three credit reporting bureaus, Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®.
• File a report with your local police department.
• Also file a report with 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, contact a rep by chat, or, if you use a traditional vs. online 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 card if needed to safeguard your cash.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• It can be wise to 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 and related numbers. Having your bank account and routing number can allow scammers to do damage in a variety of ways, from unauthorized ACH payments to fake checks. By protecting these digits and setting up other safeguards, you’ll minimize the odds of your falling victim to these wily thieves.
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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. Also shred financial documents that you don’t need.
Is it safe to give out your account details?
Share your banking information sparingly, especially online. At most, 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 and the padlock symbol) — 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 routing numbers are easily found. With those two pieces of information, a crook could use those numbers for online purchases or to otherwise defraud you.
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