Checking checks

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2005

Watch out. Your check may be checked.

Retail outlets, as well as grocery and convenience stores, throughout the United States have progressed past the days of accepting checks blindly, turning instead to check cashing services to process a customer's payment.

Dale Brown, Assistant Manager at Food Fair, said his store uses Certegy, Inc, a service corporate management implemented in February to help eliminate worthless checks passed off by patrons.

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Brown said the service has done just that.

"It's been real nice," he said. "Before we installed this system, bad checks were a pretty big problem."

Brown said Certegy automatically confirms whether or not a person's account contains sufficient funds to cover the amount of the purchase. About the only drawback, said Brown, is when the cashiers have to explain to a customer that his or her check was rejected.

"We've had people get mad standing in line, rip the check up and yell," he said. "But all we can tell them is that their check was declined for insufficient funds."

According to the Crenshaw County Circuit Clerk's office, there were 39 warrants issued in the month of June because of worthless checks. So far, in July, there have been 33 warrants handed out.

Crenshaw County Chief Deputy Jimmy Lecroy said chasing down bad checks - or negotiating a worthless instrument as it's referred to by law enforcement - doesn't hamper departmental resources, but it is an inconvenience.

"A majority of these people we know and most of them are habitual offenders," said Lecroy, who estimates the number of repeat offenders to be 20 percent. "When we get a warrant for them, we'll send them a form letter letting them know they've wrote a bad check. Most of them do come in and take care of it."

For the most part, Lecroy believes those who continuously write bad checks have no control over their finances.

"I don't think they're bad people, but they just can't control their money for some reason or the other," he said.

Check turnaround, said Brown, is also faster today than ever.

"It used to be that people would have four or five days before a check cleared the bank and they'd have little grace period to get the money in their account," he said. "Now it can take as little as one day before a check hits the bank."