The Bank of San Serriffe

D.E. Knuth has opened up his own bank where he deposits the checks for all that find errors in his books. And he has invented a new currency:

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.

He explains the reason here:

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.

Fully agreed. But his solution is not working for us mere mortals. And, after all, only a few of his checks have been cashed at all.

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1 Response to “The Bank of San Serriffe”



  1. 1 No Longer Safe to Write Personal Checks? - Amidst a tangled web Trackback on November 25, 2008 at 3:01 pm
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