Bad checks are an expensive and frequent problem for merchants, and even for private individuals on occasion. If you accept a check from someone and it bounces, it may have been an honest mistake; if so, the check writer might re-imburse you as soon as you ask. But if that doesn’t happen, how do you get your money?
It may be difficult, even if you’ve taken the precaution of verifying the check-writer’s identification. You can sue, but that will take a while and cost you time and money in the meantime. To convict the check writer of a crime, the state must prove that he or she knew there were insufficient funds to cover the check – and that can also take a while.
Depending on where you live, there may be a much better way, and it’s almost like having the services of a lawyer for free. In this case (pun intended), the lawyer is the local prosecutor, whose title may be District Attorney, County Prosecutor, County Attorney, or something similar. For now, we’ll refer to that government lawyer as the DA.
A private attorney you hire to sue someone will often contact the other party to obtain a settlement, in order to avoid the time and expense of a civil court trial. For bad checks, the DA contacts the check writer and demands payment, in order to avoid a criminal trial and potential fines and jail time.
We briefly touched on this subject last year in our discussion about Help From Government Attorneys, during which we noted bad check collection programs in Kansas and Kentucky. More and more counties are setting up similar programs, because they’ve proven to work and are in demand from citizens – especially from merchants.
Passing a bad check is a crime if the check writer knows there are insufficient funds. Most DA check- collection programs include both the victim’s demand for payment and the DA’s follow-up demand. If the check writer does not comply, that helps prove that he or she knew that there was no money to cover the check. The DA’s demand letter will point this out to the check writer.
Again depending on where you live, the bad check may be called a “hot check,” a “cold check,” a “worthless check,” or something similar. Here are some examples of some DA programs in New York: Franklin County, Onondaga County, and St. Lawrence County. And in North Carolina: the Seventh Prosecutorial District Attorney’s Office (Edgecomb, Nash, and Wilson Counties), the Judicial District 17B District Attorney’ Office (Stokes and Surry Counties), and the Wake County District Attorney.
Continuing our cruise around the USA, five counties in Montana have programs that are linked on CourtReference’s Guide to Montana Courts – Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral. Note that these programs are in the “Legal Aid” category because once the victim turns over the case to the DA, the DA does all the work – demands payment, issues the warrant for arrest, and goes to trial if necessary. The DA collects the payment for the bad check, along with a service fee for the merchant and a fee to the DA’s office. This money comes from the check writer, so the victim gets this service for free.
Some of these programs’ web pages include detailed instructions, program application forms, sample collection letters, and tips to help avoid taking a bad check in the future. The victim normally has to make the first attempt to collect by mailing a certified letter to the check writer. If that doesn’t result in payment, the victim delivers a copy of the letter, the check, and any other supporting documentation to the DA’s office. That’s when the government attorney goes to work. To find out if a government attorney will help collect your bad check, contact your local DA’s office or just check the Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral category for your state on CourtReference.