Saturday, November 01, 2008

Something I Recently Learned About: CHECKS

Nobody looks at signatures any more to validate a document. Banks haven't done it with personal checks for a long time --- checks are all processed automatically by machines which read the numbers in the bottom left. How long has it been since a clerk has checked your signature on a credit card transaction against the signature on the card itself? For that matter, many merchants don't even ask for signatures at all, particularly on smaller credit card transactions, say less than $25.

This was all brought home recently when my husband's checking account was fraudulently accessed, both by electronic transfers and by bogus checks. It seems that every check you write exposes your account number and the bank's routing number for all the world to see (and use!) Banks presently insure their customers against losses by fraud; it apparently costs them less to insure than to revamp their security system. But this can't go on for a lot longer.

All of our online transactions rely on secret passwords. In-person dealings will soon require some kind of biometric ID. This has already started: when I renewed my driver's license, I put my finger into a device that scanned my fingerprint. When we re-entered the country recently, US passport control included a camera that may have taken a photo of the blood vessel pattern in my retina. Someday, we may even be subject to a swipe DNA check. I don't find this intrusive since I have nothing to hide, but I feel a little bit sad that we've somehow lost a sense of trust.


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