Electronic transactions Featured

8:00pm EDT August 29, 2006
The ability to prevent fraud is crucial when competing in a competitive marketplace. Check fraud, in particular, can have a major impact on a company’s bottom line. Certainly, using ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions to transfer and process electronic funds is on the rise. According to the Electronic Payments Association, 14 billion payments were made in 2005 through the nationwide ACH network, an increase of approximately 16 percent over 2004.

Safeguarding against check fraud — both traditional and electronic — requires diligence and determination, but new technologies are making the process simpler and more cost-effective.

“Financial institutions offer tools that allow customers to protect their assets for a relatively low cost,” says Lynnell Harris, senior vice-president of Comerica Bank. “It’s very much a win-win situation.”

Smart Business spoke with Harris about methods that can be used to help prevent check fraud, the benefits of Positive Pay and what distinguishes ACH Positive Pay from other fraud-protection products in the marketplace.

What types of companies are most susceptible to check fraud?
All types of companies. In today’s environment, anyone who sends out checks or transacts business with partners or consumers is subject to fraud and should take precautions. Companies across America, regardless of their size, are at risk.

What are some methods that companies can utilize to help prevent fraud?
There are a variety of safety measures and financial tools. For example, employees can help protect sensitive information by making sure items such as checks, account numbers, bank statements and other sensitive financial information are locked up and stored away. A system of checks and balances can be employed within the company to ensure appropriate access and approval authority.

In today’s environment, electronic transfers offer more control, as systems enable companies to set up various layers of authority based on dollar amounts or transaction types. Other tools include online account review and Positive Pay.

How does Positive Pay work?
Essentially, the bank delivers information to the customer regarding checks or ACH transactions that will be posted against his or her account. The customer then has the opportunity to review the information and determine if they are valid items. The customer authorizes the posting of the transactions and notes any unauthorized transactions. When notification is returned to the bank prior to the deadline, unauthorized transactions are returned to the depositing/originating financial institution.

Tools such as Positive Pay significantly mitigate risk for the company without requiring a huge investment in technology.

How can a business utilize ACH Positive Pay to accept or reject ACH transactions before they are posted?
In a manner similar to checks, the bank will present to the customer, before posting, all ACH transactions. The customer then has the opportunity to identify any unauthorized ACH activity. The customer authorizes the posting of the transactions and notes any unauthorized items prior to the notification deadline. The bank will return those items before posting to the customer account.

What distinguishes the ACH Positive Pay service from other fraud protection products in the marketplace?
Typically, most banks are only able to protect companies that write checks. But technology introduced recently enables some banks to protect the customer against unauthorized electronic activity as well. With ACH Positive Pay, the customer looks at all paper and electronic items. It offers more comprehensive protection against fraud.

If a business detects suspect items using either Positive Pay or ACH Positive Pay, what course of action can it take?
The first step would be to contact its financial institution prior to the Positive Pay notification deadline and advise which items should be returned. Typically, the information regarding suspect items is available first thing in the morning. Customers pull information electronically, review it and authorize payment of the valid items. If there is an unauthorized item, they would notify their bank in that response. The bank would then return those unauthorized transactions before they post to the customer’s account.

LYNNELL HARRIS is senior vice president of Comerica Bank. Reach her at (714) 424-3895 or lvharris@comerica.com.