Huntington Bancshares has joined the growing list of institutions offering an image-based corporate check service known as positive pay.

In positive pay services, corporations and banks electronically exchange check information before presentation of an item in an effort to reduce exposure to check fraud.

The Columbus, Ohio-based bank, using software developed by Info- Symmetrics Corp., Glendale, Calif., is testing its new service, called Visual Pay, with several corporate customers.

Huntington joins banks like CoreStates Financial Corp., and Bank of Boston, among others, that have added image technology to their positive pay services.

Richard Ercole, president of the Huntington Treasury Management, said the new service will enhance the bank's defense against fraud. "It enables a client to see an image of a questionable check. They then have the additional information to help validate their decision."

Bankers believe that positive pay is an important service to offer if they, along with their business clients, are to protect themselves against the rising trend of check fraud. Check fraud losses have been estimated at $10 billion or more annually.

Positive pay services became popular in recent years when regulatory changes shifted more check fraud liability to corporations.

Thomas Bowen, a product manager with Huntington Bancshares, said the client/server, Windows-based service sends images of dubious checks over telephone lines to customers' desktops.

The service has two versions: The first, which is much like standard positive pay applications, sends just those items that do not match the customers' check file. The second version, which will be aimed at smaller companies or special accounts, puts all company checks that were presented online.

Mr. Bowen said the first version of the service is able to reduce the number of checks transmitted by using patent pending technology that can weed out mismatched items at the bank.

"Most checks that show up in traditional positive pay systems are encoding errors, and so they immediately mismatch," Mr. Bowen said. "We clean up all those encoding errors and present only true exceptions for them to review."

Lawrence Forman, a bank cash-management analyst, said the image-based system provides "quicker resolution" of questionable checks.

"I think it's probably a small but growing number" of banks that offer image-based systems, Mr. Forman said.

He said such image-based services have advantages over traditional positive pay because "there is a lot of information on the check that might not be on the positive pay file."

Huntington is testing the service with four clients, including Community Mutual Insurance Co., Cincinnati. The insurance company is using the service in its Medicare department, which issues about 6,000 checks monthly.

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