I’m sorry I brought the whole thing up.
Regarding last week’s column on identity theft, here is the testimony of two expert witnesses, edited for length but otherwise unaltered:
As the Executive Director of a retiree membership organization who counsels his members on identity theft, I can assure you that the advice you passed along is sound. The email that your friend referenced has been going around the internet for several years — I researched it last year for an article for our state newsletter on identity theft.
It’s interesting that the version passed on to you is slightly different that what I saw about 15 months ago (that says something about the nature of internet information — we don’t need a wiki to keep updating). The difference is in the very item #2 that your friend mentioned. As it so happens, I have some relevant personal experience with this one.
Many retailers won’t accept a credit card without a signature on the back. These tend to be the ones that are serious about comparing that signature to what’s on the charge slip (let’s not discourage this). It’s quite permissible, however to include the phrase “Check photo I.D.” on the signature strip along with your signature (I stick it on the far right end). The worst possible thing to do, however is to leave the signature line blank (as I’ve seen advised by other sources)–that’s an invitation to a thief to simply sign it himself.
Having done all that, though, is no guarantee that any of it’s going to matter a hill of beans. Many retailers don’t require their cashiers to compare signatures, let alone ask for I.D.s. I always thank the ones that do, and ask the others why they don’t. The most interesting answer I ever received to the latter question was at a Best Buy store, where they used to ask for photo I.D., but stopped. When I asked why, they said that they got tired of dealing with all the offended customers who were insulted by the request (despite the fact that it was a practice that was intended to protect them and their fragile egos).
One last tip: When you sign your credit card, use a fine-tip permanent marker, not a ball-point pen. Standard ink can be removed with the right solvent.
North Carolina Retired School Personnel
Then there’s this:
I have been in the back office operation of the banking industry for over 35 years, so I’ll clear up a few myths that are perpetuated here.
Advice number one: I say don’t do this [print initials rather than your name on your checks]. The check is considered a legal contract as defined by the Uniform Commercial Code. The name on the check must match the full and complete legal name and signature that you wrote on the signature card when you opened the account. No bank will take your initials as your name and merchants don’t have access to the sig-card so they would not know what the signature looks.
Advice number 2: The purpose of signing the card is to give the merchant 3 sources to verify the signature: the one on the sales receipt; the one on the card and the one on the DL. My advice: sign the card.
Advice number 3: More left field. When paying credit accounts by check, the payor always has to include the full credit account number in order to connect the physical check to the credit account. The bank sends a coupon with the credit account number recorded in MICR ink on the bottom to insure this connection. The check and the coupon stay together until they are split in the remittance payment process. After the items are split, if the check doesn’t have the full credit account number, there is no way to physically tie the check back to the credit account. My advice: write the full account number on the check.
Advice number 4 [use your work phone and either your PO Box or work address on your personal checks]: This is really, really bad advice and probably not legal. As I said, a check is a UCC contract and must contain accurate info. The check is also the primary means of transacting large financial payments. This sort of advice could gain the attention of the bank where you hold your account and cause them to submit a Suspicious Activity Report. SARs are the lynch pin bank regulators use for weeding out fraud, money laundering and terrorist activities. My advice, the info is what it is, don’t fake it unless you want a knock on your door by a couple of burley guys!
Advice number 5 [copy the contents of your wallet]: This is very good advice; do it.
My advice for financial transactions recorded on paper: don’t leave them in your mail box; don’t recycle them or put them in the garbage; don’t let them out of your control; and shred them when you’re done with them.
– Bill Anderson
So there you have it. Use your own judgment — I can’t vouch for any of this, and I hereby vow to never again publish a column on any subject I don’t know enough about to form an intelligent opinion.