The ability to prevent fraud is crucial in a competitive marketplace. Check fraud, in particular, can have a major impact on a company’s bottom line. Certainly, the use of ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions to transfer and process electronic funds is on the rise. According to the Electronic Payments Association, 16 billion payments were made in 2006 through the nationwide ACH network, an increase of approximately 14.5 percent over 2005.
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.
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?
Solutions that enable a business to protect and control electronic activity on its accounts isn’t commonplace. Debit blocking provides one level of protection, but doesn't offer the full range of decisions that true ACH Positive Pay solutions do. By reviewing and making decisions on all ACH activity before it posts to the account, ACH Positive Pay offers a greater degree of control and information management.
If a business detects suspect items using either Positive Pay or ACH Positive Pay, what course of action can it take?
For ACH Positive Pay, simply make a decision on your items online by the deadline. You can also contact your bank to place stop payments on any item you've rejected as a second level of prevention. For check positive pay, contact your financial institution. 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 (734) 632-4989 or email@example.com.