Friday, March 13, 2009

Crime Report

After jumping through hoops, I've at least got a crime report for my check fraudster. I'm told nothing really happens from here unless the DA finds some sort of motivation to go after her. The report is for a Lisa Holmberg, formerly of Walnut Creek (for the sake of Google searches). If you've been victimized by her, let me and the district attorneys office know.

The scam worked like this: She bought a bunch of toys, supposedly for her son's birthday. She was loopy enough for me to comment later that I had my concerns, but everything checked out. Her ID matched her appearance and the address on her checks. In fact, when I called the police when the check was returned, they were able to confirm over the phone my description with the photo on her drivers license, since it's electronically on file. My certified letter to that address (required by law to file the report) was returned. Then she came back a day later and returned one item for cash. If I were to have a proper checks acceptance policy, the solution would have been to send her a check for that return after the initial check cleared, but I didn't. Wham, out more money.

The next day, a guy comes in with the receipt. He wants to return everything and he actually seems angry with me for her buying the stuff. In other words, he initially tries to put me on the back foot so I'll be more apt to do what he wants. I now begin to realize I've been had, and start to get a little belligerent back. I basically tell him something seems a little fishy, but if he wants, I can exchange the items. He tells me he's going to go to the stores upper management, but when I explain I'm the owner, and he notices that I keep glancing at the CCTV cameras that he's standing under, he quickly ends his tirade and scurries out, with nothing to show for it.

The end solution, as you know, is just not to accept checks. I used to lease a check verification system for about $35/month. After four and a half years, this is the first bad check I've received, albeit a deliberate attempt at fraud. The system would have cost me nearly $2000 to have avoided a $90 charge back. Bottom line: no checks accepted. Hopefully the pin pad will fill this role.


  1. I had so few checks go bad on me that I couldn't collect with a phone call, that I never instituted a "no check" policy. By the time I sold the store in '06, maybe I had 2-3 checks a week, almost all from regulars.

    I guess the bottom line is, why make it harder for people to pay you, in whatever legitimate way possible? As you say, you have only had one bad experience with checks, maybe you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

    Maybe you can have an upper limit to check purchases - say $50 or something...

  2. I assume that you will still accept checks from your regular customers - as is the case with many small businesses that do not regularly accept checks.

    Also, how will that impact holiday sales? I know that some people like to use the note on their check to remind themselves who the gift is for.

  3. Perhaps a "no cash for returns" policy, or a "returns for store credit only" would be a better way to address this issue.

  4. I'm going to continue to accept checks from my regulars, with the understanding that "regulars" is a relative term. I have 3 other employees who are following a "No Checks Accepted" policy, and they can make similar exceptions, but it may not always be the same people. So far it hasn't been a problem over the last few weeks we've had the policy (that I know of).

    I think accepting ATM cards with a pin pad should cover most of the reasons why people use checks nowadays. They can always use their check register with their ATM card and make notes there. Checks are the only unsecured form of payment left. Why do they still exist as a form of retail payment?

  5. Just a timeline on kiting a bad check:

    1. You write me a bad check.

    2. It takes about a week for that check to be sent back to me from the bank.

    3. By law, I then must send you a certified letter asking you for the money and adding a small processing fee.

    4. I must give you 10 days to respond to the letter.

    5. Then I can report you to the district attorney's office. It will take them several weeks to process the paperwork.

    6. There is no arrest warrant. No "tag" on their DMV records. No recourse unless someone wants to start an investigation. Investigate for $100? Are you nuts? Unless there's a pattern of robbed merchants, nothing happens.

    In any case, you get about a six week grace period to write as many bad checks as you want before the authorities act, if they wanted to, which they don't.

  6. So, do you feel like this was really a short-term scam to get cash, or were they just idiots that didn't realize they didn't have the cash to cover the checks?

  7. The check was written off a closed account, so it's deliberate.

  8. It may not be deliberate in quite the way you assume. It could be a mental health issue.

    The guy may have been upset that she'd gone on another spending spree, and was trying to recoup the money he assumed they were out.

    The "why" doesn't much matter, though. I'm just saying you never know what's really going on. I'm glad you had the CCTV.

    Personally, I'm always annoyed -- and puzzled -- when I have to write a check. I've even stopped carrying a checkbook. I couldn't even tell you without a small search my checkbooks current locations. Or when the last check I wrote was -- probably to the school.

    I think no-check policies are so widespread these days, that even your regulars won't be put off by not being able to use a check.

  9. I have two main accounts - one of which is my "day to day" account with payroll deposit, ATM/Debt Card and Checkbook (usually remains at home and is used for paying bills).
    The other account is not used as often, receives my tiny retirement check, has no ATM/debit card, and is generally used for infrequent large purchases (new computer, furniture, etc.), emergencies (car repairs), and when I want to treat myself (vacations, games, minis, etc.). This is the account I use when I'm spending more than usual at the store (for example, buying a ton of miniatures for War of the Ring, instead of picking up one or two game items at a time).
    I use that account to avoid having to use a credit card and running up a balance.