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Speaking of Checks

Now you know that you shouldn't preprint your SSN or driver's license number on your checks. But did you know that checks are one of the most common sources of identity theft? Because your checks contain information about your identity as well as your bank account, there are some things you should do to make sure your checks are working for you, not against you.

First, don't put your full name on your checks. Just use your initial. Why does this matter? Because J. Johnson could be John. Or Jack. Or Jamal. Or Joan. Someone who steals your checks won't necessarily know your name, and, more importantly, they won't know how you sign your checks. But your bank will; that's why they keep signature cards for all of their accountholders.

Second, use your work phone number and address—or, better yet, a post office box. Again, this strategy helps to distance you from your checks a bit, and provides potential thieves with a "false lead" should they try to use the information on your checks to steal your identity.

Finally, consider online bill payment. Many of the utilities you pay monthly will accept electronic payments (via ACH) through your bank's online bill payment program. This technique eliminates a lot of the paper trail out there, and limits the number of parties who have access to your financial information. You still should be careful with your bank account information: Know your bank's policies on reversing fraudulent charges, and how they handle account access. And always be sure to update your browser and keep it current with security patches.

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