By State Treasurer John Kennedy

The movie Catch Me if You Can is based on the life of Frank W. Abagnale, who as a young man had an uncanny ability to maneuver his way in and out of all types of situations. By the time most kids his age were graduating from college, he had posed as a lawyer, an airline pilot and a doctor, all while forging $2.5 million worth of checks. The authorities finally caught up with Mr. Abagnale, and after serving time, the FBI enlisted his help to stop fraud and forgeries.

Mr. Abagnale has been consulting and lecturing on financial security for more than 25 years now. He has been responsible for developing many of the fraud prevention measures that government agencies and corporations use today. I had the privilege of hearing him speak recently at a conference for State Treasurers. I was pleased to learn that the Louisiana Department of the Treasury was already well equipped to stop check forgeries before financial damage could occur to the state.

The Treasury regularly issues checks to handle the cash flow needs of public agencies and to return unclaimed money to citizens. The Treasury typically cuts 700 plus checks each year for a total of $772.5 million for state agencies that need cash to make a payment deadline. In addition, the Treasury issues 16,000 unclaimed property checks a year totaling $13.9 million or more. These checks are paid to citizens who find unclaimed money on our website or through our unclaimed property awareness efforts.

There are several built-in safety features in our checks including holograms, micro-printing, chemical paper and heat markers, all of which make it very difficult to forge a Treasury check. We also use special machines and printers that prevent our checks from being duplicated. To increase security even further, we keep Treasury’s blank checks in a locked vault, separate the duties of Treasury employees who handle checks, reconcile our bank account daily, and conduct audits of checks written each day.

One electronic security measure the Treasury uses is Payee Name Positive Pay, and we recommend this service for all public agencies. Each day the Treasury sends a list of all checks written that day to our central depository bank. Our bank, using the Positive Pay program, requires an exact match of the check number, dollar amount and payee name for each check issued before the bank will honor the payment. It prevents unauthorized persons from debiting Treasury’s bank accounts, and it catches 99 percent of check forgeries. Positive Pay only costs a penny per check, and there are 15 agencies in the state that are enrolled in the service.

With the fraud prevention measures we have in place, and with those we will develop in the future, there is no doubt we will prevent the theft of public funds by forgery. It is our job to protect taxpayer dollars, and the Treasury will continue to implement new security features and technologies to prevent check fraud.