Bad checks come with holiday season

Published 6:00 am Friday, December 15, 2000

With increased shopping for the holidays, District Attorney’soffice officials know the good times of December will soon turninto the bad checks of January.

“It’s pretty steady, and it’s going to get worse,” said ChadVaughn, coordinator for District Attorney Dunn Lampton’s Bad CheckUnit.

Vaughn said he has processed 170 bad checks this week. Heexpects a 50-60 percent increase in bad check totals nextmonth.

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“I figure we’ll have a big upswing around the end of January,”Vaughn said.

A 30-day waiting period before a bad check can be turned over tothe DA’s office means those bad checks are being written now. Thewaiting period, to give stores a chance to notify the bad checkwriter, was increased from 15 days to 30 days earlier thisyear.

“From Dec. 1 to just before Christmas is the worst time of theyear for bad checks,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn urged merchants to beware and time an extra second or twofor check identification and to get a physical address of anyonewriting a check. He said a post office box number is not veryhelpful in prosecuting bad check cases.

“When it comes down to it, you can’t arrest somebody at a postoffice box,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn advised merchants to never take a two-party check. Hesaid they are not prosecutable if they turn out to be bad.

“The main thing is to check ID,” Vaughn said about takingchecks, adding that any merchant has the right to refuse anycheck.

Like the increase in the 30-day statutory notice requirement,the DA’s office fee for pursuing bad checks has increased from $55to $70. The bad check fee must be paid in addition to the amount ofthe check, Vaughn said.

Thirty dollars of the bad check fee is returned to themerchant.

“It’s a fee that you give back to the merchant to help themrecoup their money and for their trouble,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said some merchants are actually able to make some moneyoff bad checks. Those stores are ones like supermarkets and largeretailers who deal with high volume customer traffic.

“The $30 fee helps on those they don’t collect,” Vaughnsaid.

When a check is returned for insufficient funds, the merchant isrequired to send the check writer a notice. Vaughn said the DA’soffice has form letters for merchants needing assistance.

To help with collection efforts, Vaughn said merchants shouldget the letter to the bad check writer as soon as possible. He saidthat helps speed up the process and allows the bad check unit tostart pursuing the case if the bad check writer does not respond tothe store’s collection efforts.

“The quicker we get the bad check, the better our collectionrate is,” Vaughn said.