Electronic payments from your checking account can be convenient, and this payment method also helps you avoid extra convenience charges. But emailing the image of a voided check to a vendor is a risky way to provide your bank account number and routing number—both of which are necessary for Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments.
Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your personal account information secure. Learn techniques for properly sending a voided check electronically, as well as other payment methods that may work better.
Emailing Check Images
ACH payments transfer funds electronically from your bank account to a vendor without the need to write a separate check for each payment. To set up payments, however, vendors need your bank account and routing numbers. To gather that information, vendors often request a voided check.
You can use your checking account to pay for utilities, insurance, and other recurring expenses.
Checks contain personal financial information, including your routing and account numbers, along with your name and address. Identity thieves can use this information to pull funds from your checking account. Even if you void the check, the numbers are still visible, and that image may exist—meaning it can be copied or stolen—for many years.
In most cases, this isn’t a problem. Vendors are unlikely to steal from your account, and the image might be safely stored or deleted after it gets used. But if fraud occurs, the risk is significant. When thieves access your account, you could potentially lose money, and the domino effect can make life difficult. For example, you might end up bouncing other checks or missing payments because there’s not enough money for necessary payments. Plus, you spend time and energy cleaning up the mess.
You may be protected from fraud in your account, but you need to act quickly for maximum protection. Contact your bank immediately if you suspect fraud. Once you notify your bank or credit union, the organization generally has 10 business days to scope out the issue.
Pay From Your Checking Account (Electronically)
Instead of just emailing a check in plain sight, there are more secure methods of paying. If vendors do not have a secure website where you can enter your account and routing numbers securely, protect yourself with the techniques below.
One way to solve the problem is to send the check image as an encrypted PDF, which requires the recipient to enter a password before viewing the document. Be sure to provide the password securely, and don’t email it unless you use different email addresses. It’s best to call the recipient and deliver the password verbally, but you also could send the password as a text message.
With Adobe, for example, you can add a password to a PDF by using the Protect menu. Then, select Encrypt, and Encrypt with Password. If you don’t have Adobe software, you can encrypt passwords online, as well.
It’s possible to add a password to other types of files, too. If you can’t create an encrypted PDF, you can set an added password protection on the file. This will vary depending on the type of computer you have. Microsoft Office users, for example, can select File, Info, and Protect Document.
If you’re having a hard time securing a file for email, ask about faxing the check image instead. Unlike emails that may get backed up and targeted by hackers, faxed documents might not sit around forever. Stealing information from a fax transmission is more cumbersome than forwarding an email.
To send a fax, you can visit a local printing or shipping office, or you can use an online service to send a fax from your computer or mobile device. Note that when you upload a document to an online service, that service could get hacked, so an old-fashioned fax might be the most secure solution.
If there’s no rush, it may make sense to mail the check (or direct deposit form with your check image). Of course, the check could get lost and the information could be used by thieves, but most letters make it to their destination safely.
Electronic Payments From Checking
If you’re hesitant to send your account information to somebody, find out if you can send payments from your checking account. Instead of having the payment pulled from your account, you can push out payments yourself. Your bank’s online bill payment feature may be able to send payments electronically or by paper check. You can often automate payments and schedule them to go out on a specific day of each month.
When you set up online bill pay with your bank, you keep your information private, and you’re in control of the timing and amount of each payment.
Why Emailing a Check Is Risky
Technically, you expose your account information every time you write a check, so you might wonder if it’s any worse to email an image of your check. When there’s a paper check involved, the only way to use the information is to get a copy of the check. In most situations, the check is destroyed soon after it is uploaded to a secure system. It might be photographed or turned into an electronic image, but those copies generally are safe.
Email is not a secure system. When you send a message, it moves through numerous computers, some of which might have malicious software installed. What’s more, you don’t know how careful your recipient is with his email account. Even if the message gets deleted promptly, an archived copy of that message might exist for a very long time.
Regardless of how you pay your bills, it’s wise to monitor your bank accounts to limit your risk. The easiest way to do that is to set up email or text message alerts that notify you whenever money leaves your account.