Is It Safe to Email Voided Checks? Keep your Account Secure
Electronic payments via your checking account can be a good way to avoid credit card processing fees, but emailing the image of a voided check to a vendor can be a risky way to submit your account number and routing number—both of which are necessary for Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments. Make sure to take the proper precautions to keep your account information secure.
Emailing Check Images
Your checks show your bank routing and account numbers and your name and address, and that information can be used by identity thieves to drain your checking account. Even if you void the check, the numbers will be visible, and that image will exist somewhere for many months or years to come.
In most cases, this isn’t a problem. The vendor probably isn’t going to steal from your account, and that image might be safely deleted forever after it gets used. But the risk of fraud is significant. You potentially could lose money if it’s stolen from your account, and the domino effect can make life difficult. You might end up bouncing other checks or missing payments that don’t go through because there’s not enough money in your account, and you’ll have to spend time and energy cleaning up the mess.
How to Pay from your Checking Account (Electronically)
Instead of just emailing the check in plain sight, use a more secure method to pay:
- Encrypted PDF: One way to solve the problem is to send the check image as an encrypted PDF. The message recipient will need to use a password to view the check image, but anybody else will see only garbled data. Be sure to send 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.
- Password protected file: It’s possible to add a password to many different types of files. If you can’t create an encrypted PDF, try putting the image of your check into one of those files and adding password protection. Again, the idea is to add a speedbump that trips up automated scripts and encourages thieves to move on.
- Good old-fashioned fax: If you’re having a hard time securing a file for email, ask about faxing the check image instead. Most places will accommodate your request, and faxing is more secure than emailing. Fax data doesn’t sit around forever, and stealing information from a fax transmission is more cumbersome than forwarding an email.
- Snail mail: If there’s no rush, ask about mailing the check. Of course, the check could get lost and the information could be used by thieves, but it's rare for letters to not make it to their destination safely.
- Electronic payments from checking: Instead of emailing a check, see if you can essentially send an email that pays from your checking account. Several online services and apps let you do this for free.
Are Checks Risky?
If you expose your account information every time you write a check, you might wonder why it is 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 be kept in a relatively unsafe place for a long time.
No matter how you use your accounts, it’s always a good idea to monitor your bank accounts to limit your risk. The easiest way to do that is to set up basic alerts when money leaves your account.