What is an account number?
An account number is a unique string of numbers and sometimes letters and other characters that identifies and provides access to the owner of a service. In the United States, the social security number was the primary identifier until her vulnerability to identity theft forced her to abandon the practice.
In today’s electronic age, the most important account number for many people is the current account number. Payroll offices use account number verification to configure direct deposit payments for employees.
How an account number works
The account number is located at the bottom of the paper check. You will see three sets of numbers in a computer readable font at the bottom of the check:
- The first digit on the left is the nine-digit bank routing number
- The middle number is your account number
- The third number is the check number
Key points to remember
- An account number is a unique identifier for the owner of a service and allows access to it.
- Account numbers are associated with virtually all transactions made by anyone.
- In our electronic age, they are vulnerable to fraud.
- Multi-factor identification and other security measures protect identification numbers and passwords.
Special considerations on account numbers
In addition to checks, account numbers are associated with almost every transaction a consumer or business can make. Sales receipts, subscription services, credit card accounts and store club memberships all have it.
The traditional check layout applies to most personal checks. Some business checks and bank printed checks have other formats.
And identification numbers, in addition to passwords, are vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. That’s why we have to answer annoying questions about our mothers’ maiden names when we try to make routine changes to an account.
The ways to make it difficult for hackers to steal account numbers are currently taking the form of password managers as well as multi-factor authentication systems.
Modern businesses now often use a hard-to-crack master password to unlock an electronic vault for customer account numbers and other sensitive data. Consumers are getting used to multi-factor authentication, which adds another step before accessing an account, such as a fingerprint, voice activation, or a time-sensitive code sent to the registered cell phone number.
These are just a few of the ways to protect user account numbers in an increasingly vulnerable online environment.
Routing number vs. Account number
The nine-digit routing number identifies specific financial institutions in the United States. The number identifies the check as having been issued by a federal or state chartered bank that maintains an account with the Federal Reserve.
This system dates back to 1910 and was originally developed to help bank clerks sort through stacks of checks and assign them to the correct drawer. Today, electronic services use them in much the same way for electronic transfers, to take a payment from a deposit at the right institution.
The account number works with the routing number to identify the right account holder in the right institution.