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Almost every adult has a bank account for savings and emergency funds. Bank transfers also play a crucial role in modern payment technologies.
However, with the rise of financial fraud, you might doubt the security of bank transfers. Is it safe to share your banking information?
Like you, we find direct deposits convenient, but we don’t want to divulge too much information by accident. You shouldn’t mindlessly disclose bank account numbers, after all.
Our team scoured the web for official financial security resources, ID theft prevention guides, and real-life stories from fraud victims to gain insights into bank fraud. By the end of this piece, you’ll know what crooks do with stolen bank accounts.
Please read without skipping. We’ll share a scary yet crucial fact about the privacy of your bank account and routing numbers. Staying in the dark will only compromise your security.
So, what can someone do with your bank account number? Let’s find out!
In this article
- What can someone do with just your bank account number?
- What can someone do with your bank account number and personal information?
- What are the common types of banking fraud?
- When is it safe to share your bank account and routing number?
- How do you avoid bank fraud?
- What do you do if someone is using your account number?
- Keeping your banking information safe
What can someone do with just your bank account number?
Statistics show that nearly 125.2 million American households have bank accounts. Commercial banks assign each account a unique set of digits, or bank account numbers, which they use for identification and verification purposes.
Virtually every bank transaction will require it. Whether you need to make a direct deposit or order a new check, you’ll need to provide the account numbers involved.
Similarly, third parties will need your account number for certain transactions. For instance, if someone needs to make a direct deposit to your name, they’ll need your account number.
But don’t worry—account numbers are generally safe to share. Third parties that have your account number, and nothing else, can’t do anything apart from making direct deposits.
With that said, you should still divulge this info prudently. Note that crooks can perform several fraudulent activities if they pair your account number with your government-issued IDs, full legal name, credit reports, and other banking information.
Overall, you wouldn’t want someone with ill intentions to know your bank account number.
So, when is it safe to share your bank account number? There are no hard-and-fast rules, but you should avoid disclosing it to third parties that:
- You don’t wholly trust or know yet
- Have no reason to send money to your account
- Aren’t honest or transparent with their identities
- Impersonate widely trusted brands or companies
- Ask for other sensitive information like your SSN or government ID numbers
Overall, limit sending your account number to trusted institutions, companies, businesses, and individuals that need to send money to your bank account.
If you have doubts, opt for other payment options. There’s no reason to push direct deposits if you’re uncomfortable, especially since dozens of payment processing solutions are available.
What can someone do with your bank account number and personal information?
Again, crooks can’t do much with just your bank account number. However, they can already commit several fraudulent transactions and activities if they have other pieces of information, such as your:
- Social Security Number
- Routing Number
- Health Insurance Policy Details
- Credit Card Numbers
- Mother’s Maiden Name
- Full Legal Name
- Billing Address
- Employment Details
- Government ID Numbers
Unfortunately, many of these details are publicly available. A skilled identity thief can piece them together to:
Commit ACH fraud
ACH payments are pretty versatile. They support various payment options enabling you to pay bills, subscribe to monthly services, make direct deposits, execute bank-to-bank transfers, and pay merchants.
Although convenient, this versatility also poses a security risk. Criminals can set up automated payments to various products and services with your bank account and routing numbers.
Most victims only detect them once their bank statements arrive. Unfortunately, criminals only need a few days, or even hours, to exhaust the funds in stolen bank accounts.
It might already be too late when you realize you have unauthorized subscriptions.
Launder illegal money
Please keep track of all the money that enters your bank account. If a considerable sum of money suddenly appears, contact the commercial bank involved and dispute the transaction.
Remember that crooks might use your account to launder money. They’ll transfer increments of illegally obtained cash into stolen accounts, then withdraw them via ACH fraud tactics at a later date.
Make sure the bank knows you have nothing to do with the transaction. Otherwise, they might call you an accessory to money laundering and file a police report about your account.
Pay for online purchases
Most online shops require several pieces of banking information before processing payments. Some even ask for government-issued IDs.
However, several online platforms nowadays process payments with just your bank account and routing numbers. Crooks can abuse these shops and run your bank account dry.
Unfortunately, commercial banks rarely side with victims in these instances, especially if the crook targeted debit instead of credit cards.
The Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) protects you from some liability. However, note that you’ll have to report your compromised bank account before crooks use them to commit financial fraud.
Create fake checks
Crooks can issue fake checks under your name if they have your bank account number, routing number, full legal name, mother’s maiden, and employment details.
Some commercial banks might ask for SSNs. However, some crooks might fall through the cracks depending on your commercial bank and checking account.
Once the crook creates the fake checks, they’ll have access to your funds. They can issue checks, deposit money to their accounts, and make unauthorized payments until your account runs out of money.
What are the common types of banking fraud?
Identity thieves always prey on the naive. They catch ill-prepared victims by surprise with their meticulously crafted social engineering tactics and complex hacking systems.
You can’t wholly avoid crooks. However, familiarizing yourself with the typical schemes minimizes your likelihood of falling victim to them.
- Skimming: Crooks use RFID readers to extract information from magstripe cards. Fortunately, you can minimize your susceptibility to card skimming by upgrading to an EMV chip card.
- Phishing: Hackers send fake landing pages to victims en masse. If you accidentally visit these links, they’ll record all your input data (i.e., passwords, usernames, names).
- Physical Theft: Crooks can do massive damage if they have your physical credit card, especially if they know your personal information.
- Impersonation: Identity thieves impersonate executives, officers, and sales representatives to trick victims into divulging sensitive banking information.
Overall, avoid divulging information to shady individuals or entities. Opt for other payment methods if you doubt the person on the other end of the line or the company they represent.
To avoid social engineering tactics, you should know when to share and withhold your banking information. For instance, the following transactions might require your account and routing numbers:
- Linking Online Bank Accounts: Most commercial banks have online platforms nowadays, which often require a bank account and routing numbers upon activation.
- Requesting Direct Deposits: Third parties need your bank account and routing numbers to make a direct deposit under your name.
- Paying for Purchases Online: Online shops allow debit card payments if you provide your bank account number, routing number, and, in some cases, government-issued ID.
Don’t blindly disclose your banking information. Even in the situations we mentioned above, you should still follow your best judgment and avoid transacting with shady individuals or institutions.
How do you avoid bank fraud?
Many believe that banking fraud attacks are isolated cases. Unfortunately, financial fraud, identity theft, and cyberattacks happen more often than you might think.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it received over 2.2 million fraud reports in 2020, which indicates an 11% increase from 2019.
With fraudulent attacks at an all-time high, you’d do well to protect yourself by:
- Reviewing your bank statements. Peruse your monthly bank statements and report every transaction you don’t recognize, regardless of the amount involved.
- Securing your online bank accounts. Never disclose your banking accounts’ login credentials to anyone. Also, avoid reusing passwords.
- Hiding your checkbook. Your checkbook contains your bank account number, routing number, and full legal name, so avoid showing it to strangers. Also, if you need to mail a check, cover it with a sheet of paper. Otherwise, the details might be seen through thin mailing envelopes.
- Getting a credit monitoring tool. It monitors your credit reports and scores for unusual transactions indicating fraud.
Even if you follow the tips mentioned above, you still can't wholly stop identity thieves from acquiring your banking information. Whether you like it or not, your account and routing numbers are already available to various parties.
Don't get us wrong—we don't want you to feel helpless. On the contrary, we want you to understand your situation so that you'll go above and beyond to secure your data further.
Ignorance only gives you a false sense of security, after all.
With that said, we believe you can minimize your susceptibility to financial fraud if you routinely monitor your finances. Watch out for irregularities with your bank statements, credit reports, and 3-bureau credit scores.
The three main credit bureaus provide free annual credit reports. If you want to request more, you'll either have to pay $10 to $15 per copy or sign up for a credit monitoring tool.
What do you do if someone is using your account number?
We always say that prevention is better than cure. Go the extra mile to secure your personal data and ensure that crooks can’t abuse them.
However, if your banking information has already been compromised, focus on damage mitigation. Stop crooks right in their tracks by:
- Contacting your bank. Call your bank right away if you notice any unusual transactions under your account.
- Setting up a fraud alert or credit freeze. Call one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to set up a fraud alert on your credit reports. Doing so alerts lenders and financial institutions that your banking information has been compromised. However, if you want to stop all credit transactions altogether, you can opt for a credit freeze.
- Filing and ID theft report. Don’t hesitate to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you believe that someone might be misusing your banking information. You can file a report online. Afterward, you’ll get a detailed ID theft restoration plan based on your case.
Please take action at the first sign of financial fraud. Whether you noticed a small, unusual transaction or lost a significant amount of money, you’d do well to file reports ASAP.
Keeping your banking information safe
Should you stop sharing your bank account and routing numbers altogether? Of course, not!
As we mentioned above, fellow account holders need these pieces of information to send money. Otherwise, your bank transactions won’t push through.
However, you shouldn’t carelessly disclose them as well. As you already know, criminals will abuse every piece of information they can extract, from public data like your home address to more confidential PII like SSNs.
You’d do well to monitor your data. Although you can’t stop information from spreading, limiting the institutions and individuals accessing your files minimizes your susceptibility to breaches.
View anything that asks for banking information with skepticism. Verify the identity of the person talking to you, double-check why they need your data, and ensure they’ll protect your files from cyberattacks.