Safeguarding Against ACH Fraud: Ten Essential Steps for Financial Institutions and Businesses

3/13/2024 - By Sallie O'Brien AAP, APRP

As the need for faster payments increases, financial institutions and businesses face an ever-growing threat of cybersecurity risks and ACH (Automated Clearing House) fraud. ACH fraud can have devastating consequences, including substantial financial losses and irreparable damage to a company's reputation. Financial institutions and businesses must take proactive measures to mitigate the risk of ACH fraud. This article outlines ten essential steps that can help protect financial institutions and businesses from falling victim to ACH fraud and provides additional information surrounding the topic.

Step 1: Educate Your Workforce

Educating your employees about the risks and signs of ACH fraud is vital. By providing them with the knowledge to identify phishing emails, suspicious transactions, and other fraudulent activities, you empower them to be the first line of defense. Regularly updating your employees on the latest fraud trends and prevention techniques ensures they can stay ahead of evolving threats.

Step 2: Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

To enhance security, utilize multi-factor authentication (MFA) as a mandatory requirement for accessing sensitive systems or conducting ACH transactions. MFA verifies user identities through multiple factors, such as passwords, biometrics, or security tokens. Enforcing strong password policies and regular password changes adds an additional layer of protection.

Step 3: Restrict Access to Authorized Personnel

Limiting access to ACH systems and sensitive information to authorized personnel is crucial. You can minimize the risk of unauthorized access by assigning appropriate user permissions based on job functions and individual responsibilities. Regularly reviewing and updating user access privileges ensures access remains limited to those needing it.

Step 4: Strengthen Network and System Protection

Protecting your network and systems from ACH fraud requires robust security measures. Preparing firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software helps safeguard against unauthorized access and malicious activities. Promptly installing security patches and conducting regular security audits and penetration testing are essential to identify and rectify vulnerabilities.

Step 5: Deploy Real-Time Transaction Monitoring

Real-time transaction monitoring is an effective way to detect suspicious or unusual ACH transactions. You can identify potential fraud by setting alerts for large monetary and high-risk transactions, unique patterns, and possible deviations from typical behavior. Investigating and responding promptly to alerts or anomalies is crucial to minimizing the impact of fraudulent activities.

Step 6: Conduct Thorough Due Diligence

Conducting comprehensive due diligence is essential when choosing third-party service providers for ACH processing or payment gateways. Ensure these providers have robust security measures and adhere to industry best practices. Regularly assessing their security controls, reviewing audit reports or certifications, and staying informed about security measures are vital to maintaining a secure ecosystem.

Step 7: Regularly Reconcile Bank Accounts

Regularly reconciling bank accounts and ACH transactions is a proactive approach to detecting unauthorized activities. You can promptly identify discrepancies or unauthorized transactions by monitoring account activity and comparing transactions against authorized payments. Addressing these issues helps minimize potential losses.

Step 8: Leverage Specialized Fraud Detection and Prevention Solutions

Consider utilizing specialized fraud detection and prevention solutions with advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms. These solutions can identify patterns, anomalies, and suspicious behavior associated with fraudulent ACH transactions. Leveraging such technologies enhances your ability to detect and prevent fraud more effectively.

Step 9: Develop a Disaster Recovery Plan

A well-defined Disaster Recovery or Business Continuity plan is needed for effectively managing suspected or confirmed ACH fraud. The plan should outline the steps, including reporting the incident, notifying relevant parties, securing affected systems, and initiating the recovery process for lost funds. By having a coordinated response plan in place, you can minimize the impact of fraud and expedite the recovery process.

Step 10: Conduct ACH Risk Assessments and ACH Compliance Reviews Annually

Performing the required ACH risk assessments and adhering to the ACH Compliance Review requirements set forth by Nacha (National Automated Clearing House Association) is crucial. By evaluating the potential risks associated with ACH transactions and conducting comprehensive audits, financial institutions and businesses can identify vulnerabilities, assess the effectiveness of their controls, and make necessary improvements. This proactive approach ensures ongoing compliance, strengthens security measures, and mitigates the risk of ACH fraud.

The risk of ACH fraud can be minimized by diligently following strategic proactive steps, including completing an ACH Risk Assessment and ACH Compliance Review annually by December 31st. Staying informed about emerging fraud tactics and evolving cybersecurity threats is critical to maintaining a solid defense. With a comprehensive strategy, financial institutions and businesses can confidently navigate the digital landscape while safeguarding their financial transactions and protecting their reputation.


Interested in learning more about ACH fraud protection? reach out to a member of our Financial Institutions team. 

Additional Resources

Protect Your Organization From Current Fraud Threats | Nacha

Authentication and Access to Financial Institution Services and Systems

FFIEC Information Technology Examination Handbook: Information Security

About the Author | Sallie O'Brien, AAP APRP

Sallie is a senior consultant in the Financial Institution Advisory Group at Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund. She has over 19 years of experience working with financial institutions. Sallie specializes in risk-based Nacha compliance audits and provides ACH-consulting services to the firm’s financial institution industry clients. Prior to joining Saltmarsh, Sallie was a senior director of education at a regional consulting firm where she provided payment education and Nacha compliance programming for third-party providers.

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