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Fraud Threat Halts Knuth's Hexadecimal-Dollar Checks

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the sobering-thought-about-checks-in-general dept.

Books 323

Barence writes "You may be aware of Donald Knuth, the creator of TeX and author of The Art of Computer Programming, who used to post checks to anyone who spotted an error in one of his books — one hexadecimal dollar, or $2.56. No one cashed them though. This blogger has two of them proudly on his wall, but the sad news is that modern day bank fraud has put a stop to Knuth's much-loved way of keeping his books free of errors." (Here's Knuth's own post about the sad change.)

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Forgive me (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584289)

But wouldn't one "hexadecimal dollar" be... wait for it... exactly one "regular dollar?"

0x1 == 1

Re:Forgive me (4, Informative)

Enki X (1315689) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584359)

Not if you define a dollar as a hundred pennies...

Re:Forgive me (1)

Enki X (1315689) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584411)

Although technically it'd be F00 pennies for a hexadecimal dollar...

Re:Forgive me (3, Insightful)

Minwee (522556) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584453)

Because there are 900 pennies in a base ten dollar?

Re:Forgive me (5, Funny)

Enki X (1315689) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584515)

I am ashamed

Re:Forgive me (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584559)

So is Minwee. He meant 1500.

Re:Forgive me (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584477)

You may want to double check the math on that one. ;)

Re:Forgive me (2, Insightful)

gnick (1211984) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584433)

A hundred pennies is still $1. 0x100 pennies == $2.56. I'm not sure that 'hundred' is really defined in the hex world. It's like the old "There are 10 kinds of people in the world - Those who understand binary and those that don't" gag falling apart outside print because the word 'ten' blows it.

IANA mathemagician - Feel free to correct me if I'm full of shit.

Re:Forgive me (2, Insightful)

adonoman (624929) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584959)

Also not a math pro, but the problem comes in that we have two things that are defined by the word "ten" - the abstract point on the number line that is eqivalent is also represented by the symbols: '0x0A' in hex; '012' in octal; '10' in dec; and '1010' in binary.
But it's also a name for the symbol '10' itself, just as one hundred is a name for the symbol '100', as well as a name for the abstract value represented by the symbol '100'.

Re:Forgive me (1)

SBacks (1286786) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585121)

I've always believed that "ten" means "10" in any base, and its just that some bases you skip numbers in counting and others you add them.

Example (Base Three):
Zero, One, Two, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Twenty, Twenty-one, Twenty-two, One hundred...

Re:Forgive me (3, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585197)

Has being wrong made things difficult for you?

Re:Forgive me (1)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585529)

You use base 3 and miss the best version, balanced ternary [wikipedia.org] ?

Although, I don't know how you would say it:
zero, one, one minus one, ten, eleven, one minus one minus one?

Re:Forgive me (1)

A440Hz (1054614) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585559)

Maybe it's not really correct, but at work, I frequently use terms like "hex eight thousand" and such like that. It's just easier than saying "hex eight oh oh oh."

Re:Forgive me (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584773)

I work full-time and gross $19,200/year and I'm a Democrat. What's your excuse?

Does that mean you just want free stuff from people who have decent jobs?

--
I work full-time and gross $28,000/year and I'm a Libertarian.

Re:Forgive me (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585217)

Well, I work full-time and gross $28,000/year and I'm a Republican.

At least that's what Uncle Sam gets told!

*rimshot*

Re:Forgive me (5, Informative)

Flying Scotsman (1255778) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584369)

Think of a dollar as "100" cents. 0x100 cents = 256 (decimal) cents.

Re:Forgive me (0, Redundant)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584929)

Think of a dollar as "100" cents. 0x100 cents = 256 (decimal) cents.

It's still wrong though, "cent" is the same "cent" as in "centimeter" or "percent" and means 1/100. The unit is the dollar, so 0x1 dollar = one dollar. Msybe a hex kilogram can mean 0x1000 grams, but in this case it makes no sense. Not that this is of any consequence whatsoever, since it's an arbritrarily chosen value anyway...

Re:Forgive me (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585083)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!
It's a joke dollar and Knuth gets to designate what a hexidecimal dollar is since HE's writing the checks!!!

Leave it alone already!!!

Re:Forgive me (1)

Hawke666 (260367) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585645)

Would it help if the word "pennies" were used instead of "cents"? As far as I can tell, it has no connotation of "hundredth".

So write Knuth and get your certificate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585709)

Cuz he's obviously wrong. He's such an idiot.

It's called a joke.

Re:Forgive me (4, Funny)

0xABADC0DA (867955) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585809)

It's still wrong though, "cent" is the same "cent" as in "centimeter" or "percent" and means 1/100. The unit is the dollar, so 0x1 dollar = one dollar.

So if you point out this error to Knuth... do you get a check for $0x1 or $2.56?

Re:Forgive me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585139)

But cent means 1/100th. You know, like a centimeter is 1/100th of a meter?

So are you saying that if I define a dollar as 100/100ths of a dollar, I can say that in hex it's 256/100ths?

Re:Forgive me (5, Funny)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585209)

Think of a dollar as "100" cents. 0x100 cents = 256 (decimal) cents.

Yes, finally someone is taking a stand against the crappy metric-system-obsessed definition of a dollar. Everyone knows a dollar is 256 cents, this whole decimal crap is just a conspiracy by big business in cahoots with the Federal Reserve to rip us off, just like they did with hard disk sizes. I'm voting for Ron Paul.

Error (1, Funny)

onebuttonmouse (733011) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584337)

"only 9 of the first 275 checks that I've sent out since the beginning of 2006 have actually been cashed."

Can I have my cheque now?

This is getting old. (5, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584355)

Checks and credit cards are absurdly easy to fake in the modern world. Banks need to get off their asses and roll out a new system...With the billion dollar bonuses that they keep giving themselves, I'm not too sympathetic of the cost.

Re:This is getting old. (5, Informative)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584629)

Regarding checks, with their watermarks, UV-readable text,and what not, I don't think they would fall under the category of 'absurdly easy to fake'. However, people are absurdly easy to fool. So the result is the same. And with credit cards, are you talking about making physical fake cards? Because that's not exactly something one can whip up with supplies from the local hardware store. Generating valid numbers however, along with a little social engineering, the same results can be had with little effort.

Re:This is getting old. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584901)

This is close to being true, the check safety features are certainly nice.
The problem is that a "check" requires none of those things... Banks will take pieces of paper with an account number, routing number, an amount, and signature as a check.

Re:This is getting old. (1, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585183)

any piece of stationary with mag ink at the bottom with bank a.b.a., account number, check number, will be accepted as check

Re:This is getting old. (4, Interesting)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585199)

And with credit cards, are you talking about making physical fake cards? Because that's not exactly something one can whip up with supplies from the local hardware store
Afaict plastic card printers and magstripe writers are easy enough to get, Not a job for your local hardware store but plenty of places use ID cards that are very similar to credit cards so the printers are availible. You would probablly have to rig something up to do the embossing but that can't be terriblly difficult.

It's not a hardware store job but it's not out of reach of a reasonablly organised criminal with a few thousand pounds to spend and a location to get stuff delivered to.

Chip and pin cards are probablly much harder to fake but at least here in the UK most places will still put a transaction through with a swipe and sign if chip and pin fails or the card does not have a chip.

Re:This is getting old. (4, Insightful)

rcw-home (122017) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585375)

Regarding checks, with their watermarks, UV-readable text,and what not, I don't think they would fall under the category of 'absurdly easy to fake'.

Considering that you don't need to pass off a watermarked check to someone in real life to drain money from someone's account (you only need the account number and routing number off the check), yes, they absolutely are absurdly easy to fake.

Also, there's no guarantee that when someone writes you a check that they have the funds to cover it, because it isn't processed right then and there. These two factors put together have led the vast majority of merchants to simply refuse checks today.

There's absolutely no excuse for banks to not have rolled out a checking system that uses much larger one-time-use account numbers and allows merchants to verify that the check won't bounce. They've been twiddling their thumbs.

Re:This is getting old. (4, Interesting)

Detritus (11846) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585387)

All of those security features in paper checks are becoming worthless. I was standing in line at the grocery store, and the customer ahead of me wrote a check. The clerk fed the check into a document scanner built into the cash register, and returned the original check to the customer. Besides, banks are so automated that it's a rare occasion that a human ever looks at a check.

Re:This is getting old. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585469)

The problem is that none of those watermarks or anything actually mean anything. All that matters are the numbers along the bottom, and the amount in the box. The rest is ignored.

You can print the numbers and the box from any printer, and it'll still work. So, yes, they are easy to fake, because they don't actually have an authentication system.

Re:This is getting old. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585907)

You're obviously not very familiar with the sad state of current check/credit fraud.

You can order boxes of blank credit cards, embossers, holograms, uv inkjet inks, etc, from many vendors on the web and elsewhere. You can buy thousands of paypal accounts/bank accounts/credit card accounts/etc from same. All for relatively cheap.

Pretty scary stuff.

Re:This is getting old. (3, Informative)

Applekid (993327) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584911)

Which is enough evidence that these sorts of things aren't costing the banking industry a whole lot.

This suggests one or more of the following three things are true:
1) There ISN'T ACTUALLY an epidemic of checking/credit fraud aside from a few high profile high press cases (see also: terrorism, pedophilia, and other "woo, the world is SCARY!" kinds of stories
2) When fraud happens, banks are reasonably well equipped to recover the losses (some other bank has to exist on the other end of the wire, naturally)
3) The government doesn't have sufficient laws to protect the victims of these sorts of things where banks are held responsible, so banks have no motivation to fix what amounts to broken financial operations

Re:This is getting old. (1)

hesiod (111176) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584999)

A little bit of #1 and #2, and a whole lot of #3.

Re:This is getting old. (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585043)

Even worse - the security features on these items aren't even verified by the people receiving the card or check.

And most transactions are legitimate, which means that if every transaction was to be inspected thoroughly then the amount of work in shops etc. would increase considerably.

It's all about money - it costs to check and verify transactions.

Re: Wanted (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584357)

Hello,

I am not sure if this is the right place to respond. I am interested.

Joe the Plumper

> Newsgroups: comp.sys.mac.system
> From: Cmdrtaco
> Subject: Wanted
>
> Gentlemen, I am looking for an unwashed penis to suck. Would anyone be willing to provide?
>

Re: Wanted (-1, Offtopic)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584417)

Hello,

I am not sure if this is the right place to respond. I am interested.

Joe the Plumper

> Newsgroups: comp.sys.mac.system
> From: Cmdrtaco
> Subject: Wanted
>
> Gentlemen, I am looking for an unwashed penis to suck. Would anyone be willing to provide?
>

Trollfail.

Everyone knows embarrassing sex solicitations go out on Craigslist now.

This is rather disquieting (3, Interesting)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584361)

That the financial system is not any more secure than this. I always thought there were some serious security measures taken by banks before transferring funds, like doing small payments whose value has to be confirmed, and stuff like this.

Just like any security issue, though, it appears convenience wins over security for now. It would probably be too detrimental to the big banks and financiers of the world to have to authenticate transfers properly. They're already reduced to quasi-poverty (WHAT? I ONLY GET 100MILLIONS TO SPEND THIS MONTH?).

Re:This is rather disquieting (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584611)

That the financial system is not any more secure than this. I always thought there were some serious security measures taken by banks before transferring funds, like doing small payments whose value has to be confirmed, and stuff like this.

Perhaps, but you've got to bear in mind that the banking industry is, more or less by definition, entirely driven by money.

There will always be a certain degree of fraud - the entire industry accepts that and doesn't even pretend that they'll ever eliminate it altogether. However, it's a huge industry. Even small procedural changes take a lot of work to implement - and therefore cost a lot of money.

If the amount of money lost to fraud that can be saved by a given procedural change is less than the amount it will cost to implement, it makes no sense to implement it.

Re:This is rather disquieting (3, Interesting)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584933)

Yeah, I though that as well until one day I sent a $14,000 check to my mortgage company and they deposited it for the default payment amount of $1400. The scary part is that the bank didn't read the check at all, using the mortgage company's data tape instead of the actual document to learn the deposit amount. Seems they are not willing to take the time to read the numbers written on their checks! Momentum is the only thing sustaining the banking industry.

Well, checks may be out.. (1)

Puffy Director Pants (1242492) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584383)

But it seems he's found a bank that will offer adequate safeguards for the reward?

Personally, I'd prefer error-spotters to be written into the books like David Weber used to do, but I don't know how you'd kill anybody in a book on programming.

Re:Well, checks may be out.. (1)

spud603 (832173) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584877)

You're referring to the "Bank of San Serriffe [wikipedia.org] "? The one with branches in in Elbonia [wikipedia.org] and Blefuscu [wikipedia.org] ?
I'm not sure I trust their safeguards any more than a traditional bank's..

Re:Well, checks may be out.. (2, Insightful)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584975)

You're referring to the "Bank of San Serriffe"? The one with branches in in Elbonia and Blefuscu?

I think it is this San Seriffe. [wikipedia.org] Perhaps Donald Knuth is a Grauniad reader?

Re:Well, checks may be out.. (1)

spud603 (832173) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585695)

I think you're right. Good call.

Re:Well, checks may be out.. (2, Funny)

gnud (934243) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584881)

You name variables after them in illustrations of poorly thought out algorithms?

An end of an era (1)

magisterx (865326) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584437)

This is a sad commentary on our society and a horrible end to a wonderful tradition.

New Bill (5, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584459)

Obviously we must petition the United States Treasury to release a $2.56 bill with Don Knuth's face on it, which he can then autograph and send to the smarty pants who find errors in his book.

Re:New Bill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584631)

And a new "divide by zero error" bill with George Bush's face on it.

Re:New Bill (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584675)

didn't you know the USPS recomends you not send cash through the mail

Re:New Bill (5, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584789)

didn't you know the USPS recomends you not send cash through the mail

If Knuth is right, it's safer to send cash than a check. Intercept cash, you only get that amount; intercept a check, and you can drain my whole checking account.

Re:New Bill (4, Informative)

MasterOfMagic (151058) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585195)

The right way is a money order. The USPS actually issues money orders for this very purpose, and they charge only a very nominal fee on top of it.

Re:New Bill (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585359)

...and they charge only a very nominal fee on top of it.

How convenient...

Re:New Bill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585837)

They charge a nominal fee to send actual mail too.

Re:New Bill (2, Interesting)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585421)

The right way is a money order. The USPS actually issues money orders for this very purpose, and they charge only a very nominal fee on top of it.

If I'm sending large amounts, a money order is worth the hassle; but having to go to the P.O., stand in line, fill out the paperwork, and pay the fee, isn't worth it when compared to the small risk of $20 bill into a birthday card. or even paying a small debt with mailed cash.

Re:New Bill (1)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585395)

didn't you know the USPS recomends you not send cash through the mail

If Knuth is right, it's safer to send cash than a check.

It is. When you send cash through the mail, you know exactly how much money you're risking, and for small amounts like $2.56, it might well be the safest way that's economical.

Re:New Bill (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584713)

It does make me wonder...
Will Knuth get his face on a stamp someday?
Goodness I hope there still stamps in the future :)

Re:New Bill (1)

adonoman (624929) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584833)

Clearly the best solution yet.

Re:New Bill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584979)

I definitely agree.

Currently, our currency has depictions of slave owners and some quasi-occultist stuff on it. Wouldn't it be nice to put some of our greatest minds on the greenback?

Re:New Bill (1)

idanity (591710) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585253)

i second that. NEW BILL.

Pfft. This is not new. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584663)

Anyone can print a check. Everyone knows this or at least should. Companies print their own checks. Government offices print checks. Hell, if you run out of checks you can just write your information on a piece of paper and sign. (Ask your banker if you want confirmation.)

Anyone can print a check with any account and routing numbers they want. While checks are low-tech, and easy to copy, they're also very easy to trace. The fraudster's bank has identifying information for whomever cashed the fakes, which makes prosecution trivial.

This is not 'the end of an era' unless you've been living under a rock. Have none of you heard of Frank Abignale? (Watch 'Catch me if you can.') Check fraud is as old as checks.

LOL, captcha: decency, which the fraudsters didn't have.

Re:Pfft. This is not new. (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585407)

Anyone can print a check with any account and routing numbers they want. While checks are low-tech, and easy to copy, they're also very easy to trace. The fraudster's bank has identifying information for whomever cashed the fakes, which makes prosecution trivial.
It seems to me that at least according to the article the problem is that theese numbers can be used internationally.

So your bank knows that your money has been transferred to some "bank" in $THIRD_WORLD_SHITHOLE . Said "bank" either does not have sufficiant evidence to figure out who picked the money up or refuses to cooperate.

What then?

Only a genius... (1)

tomd123 (1007793) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584669)

would think the way he does... If you can't beat the banks... create one. :D

Shift left by 1 (4, Informative)

FourthAge (1377519) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584671)

Actually, don't the cheques start at $2.56, and then shift left by 1 as each error is found, up to a maximum of $327.68? (It's wise of Knuth to put a cap on it.. you might be tempted to cash a cheque worth (164)*$0.01..)

Re:Shift left by 1 (1)

msuarezalvarez (667058) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584873)

That really depends on the particular project the bug is found on.

Re:Shift left by 1 (4, Funny)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585111)

Actually, don't the cheques start at $2.56, and then shift left by 1 as each error is found, up to a maximum of $327.68?

Unfortunately there was a bug in Knuth's check writing program, and the last person received a check for the amount of "one carry bit, set."

Re:Shift left by 1 (1)

greg1104 (461138) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585477)

There's more detail about the doubling scheme used at Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] . The hilarious part there is that one of the sample posted checks recipient's name obfuscated, yet all of Knuth's bank information is completely clear.

Re: Fraud Threat Halts Knuth's Hexidecimal-Dollar (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584685)

hexAdecimal

Re: Fraud Threat Halts Knuth's Hexidecimal-Dollar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585141)

You hexed a decimal?

Ridiculous, but true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584725)

One of my friends left their laptop somewhere and it was "stolen." Among the other items in the laptop case was a personal check from me, and within the next couple weeks I had some mysterious payments going out of my bank account. During the resultant hassle, it became clear that the security on checking accounts is non-existent. As Knuth's post says, all someone needs is the routing and account numbers (numbers printed on every check) in order to make payments from the account and probably to get at the money in any number of other ways. No verification at all is done to ensure that the person making the payments is the person who owns the account. It seems outrageous that your finances can be compromised by writing checks to people you don't know, or just having one of your checks seen by someone untrustworthy, when that's basically what checks are for, but that's the way it is. What is it with bankers these days? Aren't these people supposed to be smart about money?

Re:Ridiculous, but true (1)

burris (122191) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584871)

Bankers are smart about money...THEIR money. Why should they waste lots of their money on making fraud truly difficult when the risk can be so easily managed for a lot less.

Re:Ridiculous, but true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585181)

The goal of the "modern" bank check system is not to make it hard to commit fraud, it is to make it hard to commit fraud and not get caught. The check has to go to another account, which presumably is at a bank which knows it's customers and their information thoroughly. If it is cashed directly for currency, then appropriate ID must be presented.

When I held my first several real jobs, I did not have a bank account, and I cashed all my checks at the bank they were drawn on, driving 30 miles every other Saturday. I always had to wait while they called the issuing bank, which was usually in North Carolina, and verified the check over the phone by a voice conversation. After a few months they recognized me each time and stopped making the telephone call.

I think part of the modern problem is that it is easy and nearly anonymous to get a bank account. The banks don't know their customers the way an old fasioned banker would see his customers at church or in the grocery store. Starting with enough information to get a fake id, you can then get a bank account, and then deposit fraudulant checks, and obtain the cash via ATM or spirit it away into just another semi-anonymous bank account before the fraud is detected.

I am not sure what is the solution. Requiring checks to have some secrete checksum on them or be on special paper issued by the bank would allow the banks to kill the system by charging high fees for the checks -- it is a matter of law in most states that a check must be honored by the bank so long as it has the right information on it, it doesn't have to be written on paper even (Frank Dobie used to win proposition bets based on cashing a check written on a wooden shingle). We are not going to go back to a system where it is harder to get a checking account, in the old days the poor and minorities were often locked out of that system, and even today poor people are exploited by exhorbitant rates at check-cashing places because they are more likely to lack a checking account. Bank accounts will probably get easier to obtain, not harder.

paranoia much (4, Interesting)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584753)

First, the blurb is very misleading. I took from it that the bank yelled at the use of the phrase "one hexadecimal dollar" which no banker would understand how to equate to the digits, $2.56. Since it's the text that wins in most audited disputes about amounts, that's a problem.

He's just paranoid about the MICR routing numbers, and how banks are not secure. This has not changed, and is not at all particular to him. It is odd that he's had multiple attacks while I've had zero, since he claims the attack is entirely despite any knowledge of the account holder's name or wealth.

Pseudocode: // I was going to write this in WEB but fuck that

  • Set up an independent "Knuth's Mistake Fund" checking account.
  • If a mistake is found, deposit $2.56 and send paper check, valid within 30 days
  • If a month goes by and the guy didn't cash it, withdraw $2.56 and void the check.
    (Mistake-finder framed the check for his wall.)

Re:paranoia much (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25584889)

It is odd that he's had multiple attacks while I've had zero, since he claims the attack is entirely despite any knowledge of the account holder's name or wealth.

Well, his checks are posted in many people's offices, where your checks are just up at the District Attorney's office. Therefor, everyone knows you have no money in the account.

Re:paranoia much (2, Informative)

scrod98 (609124) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584913)

In the article, he isn't just paranoid, but has had several problems, which have extended to make unhappy bankers. You plan would work, but then it would be like $30 worth of effort, so loses its appeal. Another casualty of technically savvy criminals, staying one step ahead of industry.

Re:paranoia much (5, Insightful)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584923)

"It is odd that he's had multiple attacks while I've had zero..."

No, it's not odd at all. I guess that if people did go around showing your checks to everybody they meet or maybe even posting them to the web, you'd have plenty of atacks too. Instead, people probably choose to cash your checks, so you don't have this problem.

Re:paranoia much (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585007)

I wondered about that also, but then I realized that these checks are treated as trophies and are presumably posted on the web as scanned images. The check that you or I write to the phone company is never posted on the web, so it's not likely to be scammed from.

cheaper to lose the money (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585015)

Last time I checked you can't "void" a check you no longer possess. You can, however, put a stop on it, but that costs more than $2.56 at most banks.

Re:cheaper to lose the money (1)

Remloc (1165839) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585317)

Last time I checked you can't "void" a check you no longer possess. You can, however, put a stop on it, but that costs more than $2.56 at most banks.

Most major banks will stop (a limited number of) checks for free with person's of deposits the size I'm sure Mr. Knuth is capable of making.

Re:paranoia much (1)

Albanach (527650) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585025)

It is odd that he's had multiple attacks while I've had zero

Are copies of your checks published with routing and account numbers intact on sites like Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] ?

Still think it's odd?

Re:paranoia much (1)

barzok (26681) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585385)

Since it's the text that wins in most audited disputes about amounts

Because legally, that is the amount the check represents. The numerical representation is defined as the "courtesy" amount.

If the two amounts differ, the amount written out in longhand is the amount the bank recognizes. Always.

It's 2008 (1, Interesting)

superphreak (785821) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584843)

He could still PayPal... (?)

Re:It's 2008 (1)

macbuzz01 (1074795) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585067)

It's clear that many don't cash the checks, so PayPal would have the privilege of hanging on to $2.56 times the number of people who find mistakes, interest free until they are cashed and then PayPal can collect fees on that too.

There is always the chance that PayPal will freeze his account [paypalsucks.com] , with little recourse, and seize the funds.

Re:It's 2008 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585137)

Which is so not the point.

Re:It's 2008 (1)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585177)

What would you rather have, an actual, physical, signed check by one of the legends of programming, one which you can frame if you want, or a string of text in some giant database reading to the effect of "dknuth sent $2.56", which would equate to about one line on a sheet of blank, white paper?

Re:It's 2008 (1)

superphreak (785821) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585523)

Ok. Sorry. I guess I didn't realize who the guy is, and/or why many people didn't actually cash their check. +1 ignorance. Sorry!

Sigh (1)

msuarezalvarez (667058) | more than 4 years ago | (#25584847)

I blurred the numbers identifying the account and such before posting mine online.

It is sad that things have come to this :(

Paychecks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585047)

Knuth writes that "before long, companies will find it impossible to give out paychecks without exposing themselves to unacceptable risk". When I interned in the US, I was absolutely stunned that my paycheck was actually a, well, check. Seriously, is that still common in civilized countries? Where I live the paycheck hasn't been a physical check since before I was born.

If you're going to rely on banks to get paid anyway, why go through the cumbersome road of checks? Just have the money transferred directly...

Re:Paychecks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585459)

What makes you think that any portion of the process of direct transfer is more secure ? It is essentially exactly the same as check, except the information is exchanged electronically instead of on paper. Fraudulant wire transfers are quite common. Consider the craigslist scam where a distant purchaser "accidently" wires you too much money (or sends too big a check), and asks you to write a check for the change and send it with the item -- it depends precisely on the fact that they can make a fraudulant wire transfer or check that will take longer to discover and unwind than it will take them to cash your valid check.

To do direct deposit payments, you generally sign a slip that gives the company the authority to correct any mistakes by taking the money out of your account with out your permission or knowledge. Think about the kind of people who work in your company's HR department. Do you really want them to have access to your bank account information, let alone be sitting at a computer terminal with the ability to make you miss your mortgage payment by entering an extra zero somewhere ?

The retardation of the financial sector (5, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585101)

We should make every suit at every financial institution in this country write a thousand times on a blackboard:

An identifier is not a shared secret key.

This applies to account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers, drivers license numbers, everything.

The symbol that represents you is not the thing that proves who you are. Otherwise, your name itself would be all you need to verify your identity, and we all know how absurd that is.

Of course, the real problem is that they aren't held adequately liable for the fraud that occurs. They blame it on the customer and wash their hands of it. If we made them always eat that cost, I guarantee we'd see real progress against identity theft.

Re:The retardation of the financial sector (2, Insightful)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585265)

The difficulty with making banks liable for fraud is most of the attempted fraud is the other way around - people trying to get stuff from banks. Think about it. Wouldn't you claim that your account was incorrectly debited $500 from an ATM transaction that you didn't make if you could get away with it? Sure you would. So would everyone else in your city.

There is no way to prove the difference between "identity theft" on the scale where a bank is defrauded and outright dishonesty by the customer.

Now in reality most "identity theft" is accounted for because the FBI changed their reporting rules. Credit card fraud - using someone's credit card number - is now counted as identity theft. My guess is 90% of the "identity theft" that is reported is in reality simply credit card fraud. And people do not lose because of credit card fraud - merchants do.

Why aren't merchants up in arms because of credit card fraud? Simple, they have insurance. They don't really lose out either. In effect, it is a vicimless crime.

Slashdotted (1, Informative)

Russianspi (1129469) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585161)

While it seems to be fine at the moment, it took a few tries for me to load it. So, to try and help the server, here is TFA: "Financial Fiasco Leading banks and investment funds have been foundering, because of bad debts and lack of trust; and other, less well-known kinds of fiscal chaos are also on the horizon. For example, due to an unfixable security flaw in the way funds are now transferred electronically, worldwide, it is no longer safe to write personal checks. A criminal who sees the numbers that are printed at the bottom of any check that you write can use that information to withdraw all the money from your account. He or she can do this in various ways, without even knowing your name --- for example by creating an ATM card, or by impersonating a bank in some country of the world where safeguards are minimal, or by printing a document that looks like a check. The account number and routing information are all that international financial institutions look at before deciding to transfer funds from one account to another. (See, for example, Grant Bugher's comments.) More and more criminals are learning about this easy way to acquire money, and devising new schemes to conceal their identities as they steal the assets of more victims. Nowadays almost everybody knows that it's dangerous to reveal your credit card number, or to have that full number on a printed document that somebody might find in the trash. Soon people will learn that it is equally dangerous to reveal the numbers that are printed in plain sight on every check. Forget signatures; banks have no time to verify them. The once venerable system of checking accounts is irretrievably broken. Before long, companies will find it impossible to give out paychecks without exposing themselves to unacceptable risk. One consequence of this debacle is, alas, that I can no longer write checks to reward the people who discover errors in my books. The system that I've been using has worked well for almost forty years; but recently I have had to close three checking accounts, and the criminal attacks on those accounts have caused significant grief to my bankers. (Certainly I do not believe that anybody who received one of my checks has been in any way a culprit. But all such recipients are entitled to bragging rights; therefore the numbers printed on those checks inevitably become known to random members of the public.) I cannot in good conscience continue to traumatize the people at my bank, who obviously have plenty of other things to worry about. After painful deliberation I've come up with a new plan, which I hope will be acceptable to all concerned, and perhaps even welcomed as an improvement. Instead of rewarding heroic bug-finders with dollars, I shall henceforth award brownie points, otherwise known as hexadecimal dollars (0x$). From now on it will be kudos, not escudos. Instead of writing personal checks, I'll write personal certificates of deposit to each awardee's account at the Bank of San Serriffe, which is an offshore institution that has branches in Blefuscu and Elbonia on the planet Pincus. It turns out that only 9 of the first 275 checks that I've sent out since the beginning of 2006 have actually been cashed. The others have apparently been cached. So this change in policy will probably not affect too many people. On the other hand, I don't like to renege on promises, so I shall do my best to find a suitable way to send money to anyone who really prefers legal tender. Everybody who has received a reward check or a hexadecimal certificate from me since 1 January 2006 automatically has an account at the Bank of San Serriffe, and these accounts are listed on the bank's website. All of these people have my undying gratitude for the invaluable help they've generously provided in order to improve the books and the software that I've written. I ask friendly readers to keep sending those precious bug reports, and to let me know if my new policy displeases you in any way"

Money Orders... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585299)

Rather than the fictional bank, he could make good on the promises by purchasing money orders. The worst that can happen is a fraudster figures out a way to cash the money order, but the fraud stops there.

tro7l (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585371)

Actually (4, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585413)

a check doesn't legally have to have your account or bank routing number on it. It certainly doesn't have to be printed by your bank.

The numbers are there to make it convenient for banks to move money around. A bank can refuse to honor such a check, but a bank can refuse to honor any check. There's no legal obligation to honor any check.

The numbers don't turn an ordinary piece of paper into a check. What does that is your signature.

I once knew a guy who wrote out a check to another guy on a napkin. He then went over to his bank branch with the other guy and made sure they honored the "check", which after some discussion they did. He could have just withdrawn money, but he wanted to prove it could be done, and he did.

People will still look for the errors (2, Interesting)

QuantumFlux (228693) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585437)

If no one is cashing the cheques anyway, why bother with a cheque? Knuth could just create signed certificates and geeks will still scramble to get them. The guy is famous enough now that there's no need for any monetary incentive...

fagOrz (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585873)

OS I do, because of an admittedly *BSD is dying Yet And Michael ;Smith one Here but now eulogies to BSD's were nullified by Indecision and Ransom for their

Business Accounts get all the security (1)

dracocat (554744) | more than 4 years ago | (#25585927)

I imagine that at some point consumer accounts will get the same protection that business accounts get with positive pay features. Basically companies write all their checks then send their bank files with each check number and the amount of the check.

All they need is a web interface that does the same, then I can put in the information for the one check I end up having to write each month.

SPO2NGE (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#25585967)

goals. It's when this is cOnsistent like I should be DOG THAT IT IS. IT Is EFNet, and you
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