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Capital News: Ohio Auditor Dave Yost to local governments: check out positive pay

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: October 12, 2016 12:00 AM
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Columbus -- Ever heard of something called Positive Pay?

I hadn't until Republican State Auditor Dave Yost mentioned it a few days ago.

And it sound like a lot local governments don't know anything about it, either, though Yost is recommending they consider Positive Pay or other services to protect public accounts from crooks.

You'll recall the warnings the auditor's office issued earlier this year about cyber-scammers and the vulnerability of personal and financial information stored online.

Yost urged local governments, in particular, to beware of spam messages, update their virus and anti-malware software and consider calling people they do business with, rather than communicating solely over email.

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Yost followed up that report with a survey of local governments to find out whether they were aware of the anti-fraud services offered by banks.

Scammers apparently are creative people who figure out new and inventive ways to rip off individuals and organizations. For example, some punk took trustees' signatures from a resolution, pasted them onto an official-looking check and nearly made off with $134,000 before the central Ohio township's fiscal officer spotted the unusual "Royal Bank of Scotland" transaction and put a stop to it.

(Why any bank would send $134,000 of a local township's money to a bank in Scotland without some sort of call in advance to confirm the payment was intended is beyond me, but I digress.)

Given situations like that, Yost asked the 5,600 local government offices in Ohio whether they were using Positive Pay, a service offered by banks that allows customers to confirm checks before funds are transferred.

More than 700 school districts, township and county offices, libraries and others responded. It turns out, nearly half weren't aware that such services were available.

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Even scarier: Some 41 percent of those that use anti-fraud services for their accounts have prevented fraudulent checks from being paid out.

"The sophistication with which thieves operate today requires we take additional steps to protect public dollars," Yost said in a released statement. "I recommend all government entities review the safeguards on their accounts and consider adding Positive Pay to their arsenals."

With Positive Pay and comparable services, Yost said, fiscal officers provide information to their banks daily about the checks that have been issued, the amounts and the recipients.

The bank approves only the ones that are on the list.

"If someone forges an electronic communication they forge a check, if someone's stolen a check and forged it, the bank won't pay it because there's this added backup," Yost said. "It's a very effective, logical system."

There is a cost -- about $65 a month.

But when we're talking about the possibility of losing $134,000 with one fraudulent check, that seems like a small price to pay.

"Fraud protection like Positive Pay is a necessary step to protect tax dollars," Yost said. "We think those entrusted with tax dollars at schools, libraries, townships, villages and beyond should look seriously at this option. It's a relatively inexpensive safety net."

He added, "No government in Ohio can afford to not be using these kinds of anti-fraud tools."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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