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Curb credit card convenience check temptation in one easy step

Blank checks offer easy cash, easy debt, opportunity for ID thieves

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
Every month, I get blank checks with my credit card statement that they say I can use to pay for purchases or to take a cash advance. I have never used these checks, nor do I ever plan to. Sometimes I get another mailing from my credit card company with even more blank checks in it.

I'm always very careful to shred and dispose of these checks, but I'm getting tired of spending so much time every month getting rid of something I didn't want in the first place. Besides, the checks sit in my mailbox until I get home, and my mail has been stolen before. This seems like a totally unnecessary security problem. I'd rather not get these checks in the first place. How can I make the credit card company stop sending them? -- Donna

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Donna,
I know what you mean -- I spend too much time disposing of those blank checks, too. It turns out we can get some relief, fortunately.

I contacted Gail Hurdis, communication and public affairs representative at Chase Card Services. While not all credit card issuers may have the same policy, here's what she said: "A card member can call the number on the back of their card to request that checks not be mailed to them." That sounds easy!

You'll still be shredding and disposing of checks for the next few billing cycles, however. "Due to numerous steps involved in the convenience check distribution process; i.e., pulling lists, printing checks, mailing checks, etc., there is a time lag between when card members notify us with their requests and when they stop receiving the checks, which is why they are told that it could take up to 90 days," says Hurdis.

The good news is that those blank checks are more protected than they appear at first glance. "Our card members have zero liability against activity related to fraud," says Hurdis. If those blank checks are stolen from your mailbox or wastebasket and used by someone else, you are generally not liable.

The credit card company has ways of protecting itself from the misuse of blank checks, too. For instance, say the neighbor kids swipe the checks from your mailbox and try to use them at the local gaming store. They probably won't get far. Hurdis says, "We have a proprietary system in place to review a number of checkpoints during check presentment, including verifying signatures, placing calls to card members, etc." If the kids get the bright idea of duplicating the checks for a longer spending spree, they'll run into another problem: The physical checks also have microprinting on them, making it more difficult for an ID thief to duplicate them.

Just because the blank checks present less a risk to you than they first appear doesn't mean you should let down your guard, however. You wouldn't leave your credit card sitting in your unlocked mailbox or laying around your house in plain sight (I hope!). It only makes sense to be just as careful with checks. Besides, as anyone who has been a victim of ID theft or other financial fraud knows, straightening things out after a thief has come and gone can be a huge hassle. It's always better to prevent fraud in the first place.

If you never plan to use the blank checks from your credit card company, consider asking your credit card company to stop sending them. One phone call to the number on the back of your card or statement could save you a lot of shredding over the next 10 years or so -- not to mention the hassles you might face if blank checks get into the wrong hands. Again, each issuer may have its own policy, but it's certainly worth a phone call to find out!

Take care of your credit!

See related: $65,000 cash advance for friend goes unpaid, Credit card cash advances for home down payment?

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Published: May 1, 2009


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