- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

RICHMOND — More than 14,000 Virginia residents received a false bonus from Virginias Treasury Department this year — duplicate tax-refund checks that will bounce if they try to cash them.
State Treasurer Mary G. Morris said a procedural glitch led to some individuals receiving a second copy of their refund checks. All told, 14,024 checks worth more than $4 million were sent out in two batches last week.
"Basically the same check file was incorrectly pulled and printed twice, and we mailed duplicates," Mrs. Morris said yesterday, a day after the Department of Taxation began receiving calls from residents curious about the windfall they had received in the mail.
A woman from Botetourt County told WDBJ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke, that she received her first check from the state Saturday, then a second check yesterday.
"When I got my second one, it put me in a dilemma — I didnt know what to do with either one of them," the woman said.
Mrs. Morris said residents can cash either check but not both — theyre exact duplicates, down to the same check number, and only one will be processed by the bank.
"One fail-safe control is we have positive pay on that, which is when the checks hit the payee bank, which is First Union, theyre only authorized to pay once," she said.
Still, that means residents could cash the check or deposit it and believe they have that money in their account, only to have payment stopped later. Mrs. Morris said any overdraft charges incurred by refund recipients because of the states error will be reimbursed.
"Were sorry this happened. It happens very infrequently, but sometimes errors occur," she said. She added that its the first time in her two years that duplicate checks have been issued, and that the number is small compared with the 8 million checks the state writes each year.
But others see it as part of ongoing administrative problems, such as the one that caused the Virginia Department of Transportation to pay more than $50 million for a computer system that never worked.
"Its another example of the gang that couldnt shoot straight," said Delegate Robert D. Hull, Fairfax Democrat and a member of the House Finance Committee, which has oversight on tax matters.
Last summer, Mr. Hull recalled, the state held back some refund checks while scrambling to find money to pay localities their car-tax reimbursements.
"Last time they held back checks; this time they sent out too much," Mr. Hull said.
Mrs. Morris said the problem was human error — someone ran the same file twice. She said the departments auditor is looking at the system to trace the error and try to find a way to prevent it in the future.
State officials said those receiving duplicate checks should destroy one of them or mail it back to the state. They are sending out notices to all duplicate refund recipients, alerting them to the problem.
The mailing cost for the second round of notices is less than $1,000, Mrs. Morris said. She said theres no way to tell how much the state may have to pay to cover overdraft costs for those who cashed both checks.
As of Monday night First Union had discovered only one person who had tried to cash a second check, Mrs. Morris said.

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