Statistically Speaking, His Check Was Fraudulent

Checking systems’ vagaries make them susceptible to scams, so we can understand why Walgreens might want to protect themselves against our reader by denying his drug purchase.

Certegry, their check verification service, said that “statistically speaking,” his purchase price, the store location, and the time of purchase meant the check might be fake. This flummoxed reader DudeAsInCool. His description of the ensuing events, and how Certegy eventually cleared him, might make you chortle.

We’re not sure why he’s using a check in the first place though. Why not just use a debit card?

What’s your opinion on people writing checks in the store?


DudeAsInCool writes:

Hi

Here’s an interesting company and a pretty sordid business practice against consumers for you guys to devour:

Today I went to Walgreens Drug Store in Los Angeles to pick up a few items. The friendly staff did not have the product I wanted, but the Manager called another store in the area who did, and I made arrangements to drop by the other location for the purchase. So far, so good.

I arrived at the other store a couple hours later, picked up a few items in addition to the one they had set aside for me, and wrote a check for them for under $50. This is where the fun begins….

The cashier tried to run the check through several times and had to call the manager over as the damn thing wouldn’t process. Then suddenly, light radiated from the heavens, and out spun the following Orwellian non-committal rejection note:

“The agency listed did not make the decision to decline your check and is unable to provide you with the specific reasons for our decision.” Huh?!!!! WTF?

I never had a problem writing checks at Walgreen’s before, so I asked the manager what was going on. She said I would have to call the company at the bottom of the non-receipt – Certegy Check Cashing Services – because there was nothing she could do about it.

I asked if I could use the store’s phone, and the manager politely provided one for me. I dialed. A voice male robot at Certegy’s kingdom politely answered: “You will need your 1) Driver’s license and 2) store receipt and 3) phone number to continue…blah blah blah… and then proceeded to ask me a litany of questions: “1) What was the check number? 2) How much was the check for? blah blah blah.. Can we have your first born? Etc. After I supply the information, I get the exact same Orwellian message from a second robot, in this case a shebot – as I did from the cashier print out . “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we are unable to provide any reasons as to why your check was declined…” Ms. Robot then droned on about how Certegy works hand-hand with merchants and handles up to a million checks every day… in order to stop potential fraud. Huh? Now they are accusing me of potential fraud? WTF?? After waiting another 20 minutes or so under Walgreen’s irritating florescent prison lights, I gave up and went home.

About an hour later, I got a real person from Certegy on the phone. She was friendly, sympathetic to my position, and did her best to remedy the situation. She explained statistically that 1) the attempted purchase price, 2) the store I bought it from, and 3) the time I bought it, triggered the system that fraud MIGHT occur!!!! Was it the pin stripe shirt I was wearing? WTF?

She then begin researching for my consumer check writing history. At first, she said Certergy didn’t appear to have any information on me, to which I said, “Then why was my check not accepted?” No answer, but then lo and behold, she did a little research, the heavens parted once again, and like Mose’s 10 Commandments, my personal consumer history appeared, and the corporate Gods said this was good. She then began to read off a series of checks I had written at Walgreens and other stores (Certegy has other personal information on me!!!) She quickly determined I wasn’t the problem as all my checks had cleared – it was just my luck that my purchase fell in to the wrong statistical pattern. (Luck????!!) Corporate Twilight Zone would be more like it.

She said she would up my rating immediately (They had a rating on me!!!) so I wouldn’t have a problem again, and she did so on the spot. She concluded that she hoped I would be more understanding about the plight that these huge profitable corporate monopolies and their zillionaire CEOs have to face in their daily battle against consumer fraud…or at least it was something to that effect. (I should have suggested that Citergy talk to the RIAA about consumer relations). I then asked: “Wouldn’t it make more sense for companies like Walgreens to review the check writing policies of their own customers as opposed to hedging their bets on whatever statistical studies their cash registers and Certegy dream up at the moment of attempted purchase. She said that wasn’t possible and that I didn’t understand. She’s right – I still don’t.

There was a happy ending, though. I will no longer encounter any problems with my check writing at Walgreens because I now have been certified as ‘Gold’ by Certegy; can you believe Certegy actually has a program where people pay to make sure that Certegy’s questionable business tactics against check writers aren’t used against them!!!!!! And after three trips to Walgreens in one day, I finally was able to write a check for the product I wanted. Imagine that. I even took them home and begin enjoying them. Isn’t life wonderful with Certegy Gold? And now I plan on suing the hell out of these jerks for the time lost, embarrassment, and defamation of character by statistical bullshit, etc. (just kidding)

In closing, I have attached my receipt (minus my banking information), as well as a couple links below from a few other innocent consumers who have encountered this outrageous practice:

http://www.complaints.com/march2003/complaintoftheday.march26.17.htm

http://forums.dealofday.com/showthread.php?t=176396

— BEN POPKEN

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. uhyesiam says:

    You are the person in front of me in line that makes me suicidal.

  2. Seacub says:

    I’m always in line behind the old lady who not only has to write a check, but then write the amount down and FINISH THE MATH before moving out of line. RAGE.

  3. FrenchBenj says:

    Why people still use checks is completely bewildering to me. Debit cards offer more protections and take a second to swipe, as opposed to the whole “show us your ID, birth certificate, passport, iris scan” routine.

  4. Do2 says:

    One more check writer NOT in front of me in the check out line… can’t say I am sorry.

    Dude, speed it up, use a card, and earn the free airline milage.

  5. ducksauce says:

    I didn’t think people who wrote checks in stores knew how to use the Internet. I’m going to have to ponder this one.

  6. mopar_man says:

    Why not just use a debit card?

    In his defense, not all banks have an easily-obtainable debit card. Some also have fees to go with them.

    What’s your opinion on people writing checks in the store?

    It’s irritating as hell. Credit cards and debit cards can be a PITA as well if they don’t go through. I prefer cash. Quick and to the point and it always works.

  7. homerjay says:

    Agreed. On all points. Checks have no place in retail stores. I can’t wait for the grocery stores (in particular) to stop accepting them, but then Myrtle will never shop there again if they did.

  8. hello says:

    Can you guys provide some background on this company and this type of practice? That is the type of thing I check Consumerist for. Are they the only company that certifies checks? Can I request a copy of my rating like with a credit report?

    I would hate to be trying to get important medicine and end up dying because Walgreens refuses my check.

  9. WindowSeat says:

    All of the comments so far echo my frustration with check writers. There’s certain situations that call for writing a check, but the hassle from the post confirms my belief that my time is worth way more than an annoying transaction fee that might be incurred with a debit card.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    I had a similar experience with AT&T Wireless which *surprise* also uses Certegy. Initially AT&T Wireless said the check was declined. DECLINED?!? I called up my Wachovia banker and she confirmed that there was easily 100x the amount of the check in the account and researched it further to show AT&T had made NO attempt to cash the check.

    I called up AT&T and got a similar type answer that Certegy didn’t have any information on me. AT&T insisted that I bring CASH to one of their retail stores instead. I politely suggested they at least try to cash the check, as if I had to return to the store it’d be to return the phone and cancel the account. Ultimately, AT&T eventually did cash the check, but it took them over a week of debating it before they did.

  11. MeOhMy says:

    If your bank is charging you for debit POS transactions, writing checks isn’t the solution – finding a new bank is.

  12. niccernicus says:

    A check?

    Checks are for paying bills from home. Leap into the 21st century and get a debit card.

  13. MeMikeYouNot says:

    It appears as if the sentiments about check writing is shared by most of us. I ordered new checks when I moved into my new condo in March 2005 and still have 249 of the 250 left. I can’t remember what I used the one for, maybe for a haircut.
    PLEASE people, use debit cards, find a bank that doesn’t charge you fees for the use of a debit card etc.
    There is no excuse for a check in today’s world.

  14. joopiter says:

    There are actually stores that don’t accept debit cards. There’s a small chain of stores in Connecticut called XPect that takes Discover and that’s about it. I found that out the hard way. However, I will not hold it against them as they are often the last hope a Connecticut consumer has in finding discontinued items like your favorite shade of foundation or the shampoo/conditioner that worked perfectly for your hair but alas is no longer made.

    That said, my father taught me that if you’re going to use a check in a checkout line, fill out everything else other than the price BEFORE you get in the line to make it as painless as possible. And then get the hell out of the way when you’re done if you have to fill in the check register right that very minute.

  15. 5yearwinter says:

    Oh, God! The place where I work requires us to enter in approximately 6,000 different little numbers and codes and such to properly accept a check. It’s terrible and I hate people who write them at retail stores.

  16. mopar_man says:

    That said, my father taught me that if you’re going to use a check in a checkout line, fill out everything else other than the price BEFORE you get in the line to make it as painless as possible. And then get the hell out of the way when you’re done if you have to fill in the check register right that very minute.

    This is good advice. Or just fill it out while in line instead of reading those tabloid magazines.

  17. The Bigger Unit says:

    I enjoy the old ladies who pay for part of their purchase with cash, and the remainder with a check.

    Anyway, I hate checks, but I still use them to pay the rent and pay the utility bill (since the utility company charges extra to use the “internet” to pay your bill “online”). In the case of rent, I’m not sure how else my land lord would get paid (short of getting a money order every month, which would suck).

  18. Mike_ says:

    I doubt this was the response the submitter was expecting. Then again, one of the things that bugs me most about check writers is that they’re generally oblivious to the fact that they’re inconveniencing everyone around them. It’s time to let go of payment methods of yesteryear, and join the rest of us here in the 21st century.

  19. humphrmi says:

    @n1ckel5: Paying bills from home? No, that’s what Checkfree is for. :)

  20. niccernicus says:

    @MeMikeYouNot:

    “PLEASE people, use debit cards, find a bank that doesn’t charge you fees for the use of a debit card etc.”

    While most places I know do charge you for using a “debit card,” opting to process it as a “credit card” usually bypasses the fee. My wife drilled this little tidbit into my brain after I continued to rack up $1 here, $1 there fees.

    Let’s be smarter than the system here.

  21. niccernicus says:

    @humphrmi:

    Lol. Tell that to my wife!

    I think there’s still a little piece o’ mind that she gets from physically writing the check.

  22. acambras says:

    What… well, what EVERYBODY said. Checks are a pain in the ass, but if you must use them, fill out as much as you can before you get to the front of the line.

    @Joopiter, I had exactly the same thing happen to me at the North Haven Xpect. And I don’t carry checks. I had to leave my cart, go to an ATM, then go back (because I really wanted that shampoo, I guess).

  23. benwellington says:

    This seems 100% reasonable. ATT will shut your phone down if you call a suspiciuous country at a suspicious time of the night if a computer tells it to. Similarly, I have had my credit card declined a few times over the last few years because of computer algorithms saying I was doing something suspicious. I have no problem with this at all.

  24. Kornkob says:

    *shrug* Retail outlets that take checks are taking a risk since the process for getting the money from you if you bounce one can be a PITA, especially if you decide to dodge them or otherwise make it difficult.

    So businesses protect themselves from that risk by contracting these check verification companies. To oversimplify it, the way the contract works is this: the check verification company will buy any bad check that they authorize the retailer to take. The retailer gets their cash and the check verification company assumes the responsibility for collecting the debt.

    It’s essentially the same relationship you have with a credit card company– only there’s more risk attached to the check writing.

  25. Buran says:

    I haven’t seen a single commenter say anything interesting about the topic of this thread — instead, we’re all ragging on the submitter about his choice of payment. What business is it of ours? Maybe it’s rare in this day and age that people still write checks at stores — but they can if they want to, and maybe a lot of them have very good reasons for doing so.

    It takes a little longer to get to the front of the line if there’s a check writer or two in front, but are you really in that much of a hurry that it’s the end of the world? Take a minute to reflect, or maybe say hello to a stranger and make someone’s day, or do some other simple kindness to someone — isn’t it a waste to decide to be bitter that someone slowed you down for all of two minutes?

  26. DeeJayQueue says:

    at my job#2 (in a copy center that shall remain nameless) we recently switched from the honor system to a card reader system for self-serve copies. Most people actually prefer it, because they don’t ever have to to to the register to ring out and it charges their credit card automatically.

    Among our regular customers there’s one lady that always pays with a check. I guess the church reimburses her but they have to have the cancelled check as proof or something. She was shocked and horrified to find that we could no longer take checks for payment. There’s a contingency plan where we can give out courtesy cards that can be paid for with a check at the register but we don’t have any of the cards to give out. I told her that she could use a credit card at the machine or put cash into the kiosk and get a copy card and she about flipped her lid. Oh, and she’s always on her cell phone and pretty much always rude to anyone around her. The fact that she writes checks for everything comes as no surprise. It was nice to see her come up against a logic wall where she couldn’t have what she wanted.

  27. mac-phisto says:

    hey, i use checks every once in awhile & that’s my perogative. i understand it takes a little longer, but i figure i’m a low-annoyance shopper (no screaming kids, no 405 items in the express line, no whining that the q-tips advertised at 99 cents rang up $1.13), so i deserve the 15 seconds it takes me to fill in a check.

    a debit card is not as “safe” as everyone thinks. didn’t everyone read about the stop & shop PIN breach & tj maxx security breach?

    also, while swiping & signing is sometimes an option, merchants have the right to require you to PIN a debit transaction. costco is notorious for this, & wal-mart was instrumental in limiting your right to choose. why? it saves them millions of dollars in interchange fees a year.

    i had a similar problem with certegy. it’s known as a “type 3″ denial. there’s one of about 6 billion reasons that fall into this category & no one can tell you specifically which one applies to you. let’s just say that i never shop at journey’s again b/c of that day. tried to buy a pair of shoes & had some snot-nosed 15-yr old brat tell me that if i didn’t bounce checks i wouldn’t have a problem. never bounced a check in my life. i could’ve paid cash for those shoes, but that girl’s comment burned me up so much i wanted to bounce the cash register off her head.

  28. middle-aged_semi-g33k says:

    People amaze me. If the little old lady wants to pay half in nickels and dimes, and half in a check so what? The center of her existence is not to make the queue go faster for you.

    Many places still accept checks; many people still write checks. And I guarantee that they are not doing so just to inconvenience you.

    And yes, I use a debit card all the time because it is faster and more convenient, but all this animosity against people who write checks is ridiculous–I know a lot of people who write checks simply because they use carbon copy checks and it forces them to write everything down, something that admittedly I don’t do–but should–when I’m racing through the checkout at the supermarket with my quick and easy debit card.

  29. ninevolt says:

    My mother’s a Certegy employee.

    This sort of thing, while annoying, is just what companies like Walgreen’s pay for– making guesses as to what may be fraudulent, and going from there.

    I stopped writing checks at Walgreens long ago– got to be too much of a hassle.

  30. FLConsumer says:

    Suggesting people use a debt card (esp. one of those Visa check cards) seems more frightful to me. If anything goes wrong, it’s coming out of your bank account and you’re out the money until it gets resolved. Sure, someone can try washing the check and filling it out for whatever amount they want, but the newer checks and inks resist this, but it’s far easier to get your Visa # stolen and abused than a paper check.

    In my case with AT&T, a photocopy of the check is what I wanted for my records, just to CYA.

  31. Zoom says:

    I would have killed for my checkbook the other day. I was on a mission to buy a shaving brush for myself on Michigan Avenue in Chicago and wandered into a Neiman Marcus store. Maybe I’m the only one in the world that doesn’t know the history of this establishment, but apparently they don’t take Visa or Mastercard (only AMEX and their own Neiman Marcus card and of course cash and check). I wasn’t about to sign up for another credit card just to buy this brush, so I left with a, “you have got to be kidding” and wasted another 30 minutes finding it somewhere else.

  32. cindel says:

    Sorry but I disagree as a check writer. When I write checks, I make sure everything is fill out and just put in the total and hand it over. Some Debit Cards has fees and Credit Cards are bad debt that can put you in a hole over time.

  33. brooklynbs says:

    What banks are you people using where the debit cards have fees? I’ve never had to pay a fee to get or use a debit card.

    I write one check per month and its for my rent. Otherwise, the last check I wrote was to my accountant and that get lost in the mail and it cost me $29 to cancel it. I went to her office and paid her in cash instead of sending another check.

    I don’t have a problem with check writing, it’s just antiquated in my book. I’d also rather use a debit card because the money is gone from my account quicker (I know, some people like checks for the opposite reason). I sometimes have to wait two or three weeks before my landlord cashes my rent check and it’s a PITA when I’m trying to budget.

  34. sweetlyvicious says:

    When I used to work at the big red bullseye, this sort of thing would happen once in a while. Once a poor lady with a bunch of kids in tow and a large full cart had her check rejected because someone else earlier that day had given a cashier a bad check. It was absolutely horrible to explain to the irate customer that the only course of action would be to call the number on the rejected check. She just left the cart and walked right out without anything. There’s nothing like being made felt like a criminal to turn a guest from ever stepping in store again.

    Also, checks are useful for balancing accounts at the end of the month. Plus, my old job only let me use my employee discount only if I paid in cash or by check. But having your account info printed on a piece of paper is risky. What if someone steals your checkbook? There’s your bank info, your address, and your phone number gone.

  35. a_m_m_b says:

    Old fashioned as checks may be, so long as schools and other organizations (Boy Scouts, etc.) have fundraisers, checks will be both needed and used as few such entities are able to handle the processing fees/hassles of getting & maintaining a merchant account for processing debit/credit cards.

  36. formergr says:

    Lots of debit cards have fees, not sure there are any banks in Chicago where the debit card *doesn’t* have a fee. It basically recognized the store as a non-network ATM– don’t a hug majority of banks charge fees for using those (usually $1-$2)?

    If you have a Visa/MC debit check card, on the other hand, you can just swipe it as a ccard and not get charged the fee– unless you’re at Costco or another store that won’t let you.

  37. 44 in a Row says:

    Sure, someone can try washing the check and filling it out for whatever amount they want, but the newer checks and inks resist this, but it’s far easier to get your Visa # stolen and abused than a paper check.

    The safety problem with checks isn’t so much that someone might alter the physical check. The bigger issue is that printed on the face of the check is all the information that’s needed to create other checks. Routing number, account number, contact information, etc., etc…. all a thief needs to do is provide that information to a shady operation (QChex comes to mind) that will print up new checks, and they’re good to go.

    Also, it isn’t so much that Costco requires a PIN, as much as they simply don’t take credit cards with the exception of Amex. They signed an exclusive deal in return for reduced processing fees, and I’ll deal with it from Costco since they really do pass on the savings.

  38. What’s your opinion on people writing checks in the store?

    Maybe he does have a debit card but left it at home or lost it. I haven’t written a check in months but the last time I did it was because of that.

    In general, it doesn’t even happen often enough to get frustrated about it: most people use cards or cash and the couple of times I can recall seeing a check written either the person had written out the info ahead of time or the store register was able to print the info for the customer onto the check.

  39. DudeAsInCool says:

    LOL. Sorry guys, I can guarantee you that when I do write a check I do not slow down lines. I misplaced my debit card that day, so a check has to suffice, so cut me some lack.

    As to the bigger issue…I am surprised that not many here are outraged that check companies you don’t even know about have files on you; or that they can deny accepting your check for statistical reasons, when you might, like I did, have a perfect check writing record at the store in question.

  40. Shutterman says:

    Personally, I can’t for the life of me understand why people stand there and don’t even start filling out the check until the total comes up at the register. If you at least fill in everything but the amount while you’re waiting, it is more forgivable.

    At the same time, I’m always a little weirded out about using my debit card for purchases and some banks do charge monthly fees for check cards so…

  41. ElizabethD says:

    I routinely write checks at Stop & Shop supermarkets — yes, the same markets where debit- and credit-card PIN numbers were swiped en masse recently. If you have a store card at S&S, the cashier can run your check through the register in a few seconds and print everything except your signature, which you have already signed. It actually takes less time than some of the shoppers fumbling around with cards and keypads.

    Listen… I only recently learned how to pump my own gas, and I don’t own an ATM card. (blush)

  42. Kornkob says:

    @44 in a Row: all a thief needs to do is provide that information to a shady operation (QChex comes to mind) that will print up new checks, and they’re good to go.

    Nope–even easier. The thief just needs to buy check stock and print the checks on a handy printer.

  43. niteflytes says:

    I can tell you why a lot of older people use checks. Their eyesight is too poor for those debit card machines. My mother has low vision and she can not see the numbers on the keypads, the print on the screens or even where to sign if she’s using a credit card. She’s so familiar with checks that she doesn’t need to be able to read it, she knows exactly where to write all of her information. When she does use her debit card she can’t read the receipts and gets her checkbook register messed up.

    She knows she’s slow and that people get impatient and that frustrates her and slows her down even more. Most people really aren’t slow in checkouts just to be obnoxious.

  44. Teapotfox says:

    My goodness, I have to say I agree with middle-aged_semi-g33k here–what’s with the hostility toward cheque-writers?! There are a lot of valid reasons why people still write cheques, and frankly, those reasons are no business of yours. What an unbelievably arrogant attitude it is to presume that anyone writing a cheque is stupid, backwards, etc… I realise it may come as a shock to some, but everyone else on earth isn’t living with your personal convenience in mind. Waiting a few minutes longer in a queue isn’t the end of the world, and people do it when your precious cards are declined, or the number must be manually typed in, etc…

    I am speaking, incidentally, as someone who managed a retail store for years as well as a consumer–cheques never bothered me when I received them at my store, either (and yes, we had to note numerous things on each cheque, too).

    The REAL issue in this story is a consumer database somewhere with all of our collective buying habits in it, charging consumers money to get a free pass to write cheques in the first place and avoid the humiliation of being rejected on the basis of at what time of day and in which neighbourhood we happen to be making a purchase.

    Shouldn’t that sort of be more troubling than the fact that someone might be writing a cheque in the first place?

    (For the record, I don’t write cheques. I prefer cash over anything else.)

  45. The Bigger Unit says:

    @middle-aged_semi-g33k: So…you use a debit card because it is “quick and easy” and you want to “race” through the checkout more quickly…yet essentially state you wouldn’t have a problem with someone taking five minutes just to pay for something with nickels, dimes, and a check to boot? You are a god among peons, sir.

  46. What banks are you people using where the debit cards have fees?

    Probably small ones.

    I am surprised that not many here are outraged that check companies you don’t even know about have files on you.

    I meant to say something on that before I hit submit. 1) It’s crap that they save any info beyond person X hasn’t passed bad checks and person y does. 2) I would think the statistics would be of little help. Do most fraudsters use the same amount on their checks each time? 3) Why don’t they use the info they collect to prove someone isn’t committing fraud?

    In the end though, this is on Walgreens for doing business with a shitty company and dumping problems with the third party onto the consumer. If you hand over personal financial information to a company that’s going to save it you should be disclosing that. Your customers don’t do business with Certegy Check Cashing Services. It’s not their job to work things out with them. If you can’t take their checks they can take their business elsewhere.

    BTW, DudeAsInCool, which other stores were using Certegy if you don’t mind me asking.

    • thedevildoesdrugs says:

      I know that while telecheck claims to have the most merchants using their system, certegy seems to have more subscribers out here on the USA’s left coast. for instance, office depot & home depot, once telecheck stalwarts, have recently dumped telecheck for certegy’s greener pastures.

  47. Aaron Pratt says:

    I’ve always thought that senior citizens (and especially senior citizens that use checks) should have their own special checkout line at retails stores so that they don’t have to slow down the rest of us.

  48. DudeAsInCool says:

    Thank you, Teapotfox – my sentiments exactly.

  49. DudeAsInCool says:

    Thank you for asking, Rectilinear Propagation. Certegy is an international conglomerate. I know they deal with Staples and Best Buy from my online research. If I had to bet, my guess is that they have records on everyone in this thread…

  50. mac-phisto says:

    @Kornkob: yes & no. they also need to buy MICR ink or the check won’t pass electronic authorizations. as far as i know, you can’t order MICR for a simple laserjet. most powerhouse HP printers have a MICR counterpart to their regular toner though.

  51. datruesurfer says:

    We have a similar system where I work (I think its called SCAN for Shared Check Authorization Network). Customer writes a check, I verify check amount and ID then I run it through the check endorser, it takes the account, routing and check numbers and runs it through a database of known fraudulent/bounced checks. If it finds something, the register instantly prints up one of those rejection notices and the customer is required to pay cash. Although in my opinion we shouldn’t take checks, I think our system is fair because it wont reject a check for no reason.

    As for this incident, that is complete nonsense and quite embarassing to the customer to say the least. Their system should have been able to match the numbers off the check with a previous purchase in their system and approve the check.

  52. Youthier says:

    Maybe my local grocery stores just have really crappy card readers but it’s typically faster for me to write a check at my local Meijer than to use my debit card. It stops for 2 minutes, you have to attempt four times to sign your freaking name… ugh.

  53. mac-phisto says:

    @DudeAsInCool: certegy is just a front for the largest financial information processor in the world – FIS (fidelity information services). if you have ever dealt with a bank EVER in your life, chances are FIS has information on you somewhere. check ‘em out.

    btw, equifax also runs a similar system, & you may (or may not) have heard of chexsystems – a CRA database of people who have abused bank accounts.

  54. Mr. Gunn says:

    ChexSystems is another background checking company that many banks use, along with SCAN and Certegy mentioned above.

    I didn’t realize the South was so much more advanced than the rest of the country! Pretty much anywhere down here will print your info on the check if you just hand it to them signed, and I’ve never, ever, had anywhere charge me a fee to use a debit card for a retail purchase, not even over a decade ago in a small southern town using a local bank. I once paid a $10 one-time fee when I opened the account to get a debit card as opposed to just an atm card, but they don’t even charge that anymore.

  55. tcp100 says:

    People saying that credit cards and debit cards are more risky than checks ARE naive and ignorant.

    With a check, you are handing over your bank account number, routing number, and personal ID information to a complete stranger. Some people even print their SSN on their checks! Insane. Please, tell me how that is less risky than a credit card?

    For all you folks so worried about your credit card number getting stolen – guess what – if your credit card number gets stolen and used, it’s the CREDIT CARD COMPANY’S PROBLEM, not yours. In 12 years of using credit cards (and yes, I have been victim to fraud a handful of times) I have never had to worry when my card was misused – as a matter of fact, legally, you’re only liable for $50, and that’s if you don’t report it.

    Debit cards offer similar protection, but not as much if you don’t report it immediately (two days). Debit card transactions can also sometimes be reversed, and if you process it as a credit transaction, it’s a “delayed debit” which can reversed within 24-48 hours.

    With a check, you have NO protections. It’s your word against someone else’s if they pass off a fake check or do a direct ACH debit using your account number. You don’t have an intermediate layer protecting you – no Visa, no Cirrus network – just straight to your bank account and debited.

    I’ve found that most people who write checks do it because they feel they can “float” the check for a couple of days; however with Check 21, some people are going to be sorely surprised when they find their checks debited instantaneously just like a debit card.

    There is NO reason in today’s day and age to use a check at a retail establishment, none.

    It puts you at more risk, raises costs to everyone (since the store has to deal with bad checks and pay for services like Certegy), and YES, it slows everyone down.. (I know the attitude these days is that nobody who’s in a rush could POSSIBLY be legitimately in a hurry!)

    If your excuse is that it forces you to write things down, you’re basically just saying that you’re lazy. Keep your receipts and record them at the end of the day or the week. Write in a register, just like the one that comes with your checks. If you’re too lazy to keep up with your daily transactions, then you have a lot bigger things to worry about than debit card fraud.

    I think that folks who write checks are either trying to take advantage of the float, or are “afraid” of mysterious technology they don’t understand.

    Guess what. Checks are processed electronically, too — and with Check 21, instantly. If you’re thinking that there’s a guy with glasses and a visor and a little green-shaded lamp sitting at your bank and checking your check signatures, you’re sadly ignorant. Checks offer no safety above debit cards. None.

    The only difference is that instead of swiping a card that allows the merchant to check the validity of your bank account, you do it through a piece of paper that you manually fill out, that has to be verified through a third party. I’d rather someone have my debit card number than my routing number, account number, name, address, and DL/SSN any day.

  56. mac-phisto says:

    doh! i know not how to link externally. type “www.certegy.com” in your browser window to view FIS. FYI – my bank, my bank’s bank, my bank’s interchange bank, my bank’s information database supplier, my bank’s card issuer? all FIS (in one form or another).

  57. DudeAsInCool says:

    As to the question, “We’re not sure why he’s using a check in the first place though. Why not just use a debit card?”

    What makes you think the same thing couldn’t happen to someone using a debit or credit card?

  58. lastfm says:

    I am a checker at a regional grocer. I am not exactly when the “grandma” comes up to my line, and takes a day and a half to write out the check. I am waiting on her longer to write her check than she has to wait for me to scan all her groceries.

    I am not lying, this happens almost everyday. Oh, after “grandma” puts all her stuff away, and I put her check in the machine ,the system occasionally asks for ID. So it’s back out with all her things, and her scrounging around for her ID.

    The best occurrence, was when an older lady and her daughter were in my line. The grandma writes her check, and the system asks for her ID. I ask her for her ID, she hands me an expired driver’s license. I ask her if she has an ID that’s not expired. The daughter answers, “no” and gets pissed off at me. The daughter goes off how her mom is 88 and does not drive anymore, and how she shops here every week. I can understand that, but our system needs to update customer’s info occasionally. She didn’t have to have a driver’s license, a state-issued ID would have worked fine. All of this, because “grandma” wanted to use a check.

  59. datruesurfer says:

    @DudeAsInCool:

    Credit Cards are more secure because the authorization network can instantly verify a good account versus a bad one. As long as it says “Approved” on my screen when I swipe a customers card, that is a guarantee that the money will be deposited into the stores bank account. However, if i put a check through the endorser and it is approved by SCAN, that does not mean that it wont bounce or be determined to be fraudulent when taken to the bank.

  60. Kishi says:

    I work for a company that uses the Certegry verification system, and I dread the day that the system rejects a check, because I know that some customer is going to yell at me over it. Bah.

    But, as a clerk, I don’t mind people paying with checks. Gives me an extra minute to fold and put your purchase in a bag, rather than just shoving it in the bag, as seems to happen when I shop.

  61. scootinger says:

    I used to sometimes use checks to buy stuff until I turned 18 recently – my credit union won’t give you a debit/check card until you’re 18; they say that it’s Visa’s rule but that’s most likely BS.

    One time I bought a laptop for someone else using a check at an Office Depot store for about $700. The check went through with TeleCheck fine, to my surprise.

    A few weeks later OD had a really good sale on another laptop so I went to the same store to get one myself. It was less than $650, but this time TeleCheck ended up declining the check! It almost resulted in me missing the deal – I had to go to my bank the next day to get a cashier’s check and by that time they nearly ran out of the laptops.

    I’ve had Certegy decline checks too – I’ve had big checks successfully go through, and at other times small checks were declined.

  62. Miguel Valdespino says:

    “I’m just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your debit cards frighten and confuse me!”

  63. DesertFox82 says:

    To quote DudeAsInCool’s latest post:

    As to the question, “We’re not sure why he’s using a check in the first place though. Why not just use a debit card?”

    What makes you think the same thing couldn’t happen to someone using a debit or credit card?

    I had a whole post written that agreed with this point, but then I realized that there is already such a thing in place. I know for certain Visa already monitors usage and rejects “suspicious” charges, as I’ve had a Visa for years. Plus, as mentioned before (feh, too lazy to scroll up to see by whom) the burden of credit card fraud is on credit card companies, which is why they lobby Congress to make it harder for citizens to file bankruptcy.

    I still think it’s really creepy that there are companies that have my data and I don’t know who they are and what their business practices are. Do they sell that data to third-parties? Have they had any information leaks in the past year? How do I resolve disputes about my history?

    Until I read this article, I didn’t even know they existed.

  64. fairywench says:

    My, look at all the venom against check writers!

    I had a similar situation a couple of years ago. I lost my debit card on December 22nd. I immediately went to my bank, in person, and informed them. They did whatever they needed to do to my account, and I then pointed out to them that it was 3 days before Christmas, and I was just starting my shopping, so I was going to be writing checks on that account like a maniac, and would they please make sure that I wouldn’t have any problems? They assured me that I would have no problems writing checks.

    I went out and hit the stores, and at about my fourth stop, at Cost Plus World Market, I had an experience that was virtually identical to DudeAsInCool. I called the phone number provided, and after being circulated through their phone system and several actual people, I was informed that my check had been rejected because I had written too many checks that day! “But..” says I, “My bank made a notation on my account specifically so that I wouldn’t have any problems!”

    I was then informed that I was not talking to my bank (duh!), and that they were looking at my bank account and could see that notation (!!! They can do that?) and that it didn’t matter, they were still not going to accept my check. I was furious – not only that they could deny my check for no $%*! good reason, but also because this company, which I had never even heard of before, and had most definitely not ever given permission to do anything, knew all my sensitive information and could actually LOOK at my bank account!

    Ultimately, I spoke to my bank (Bank of America, which by the way has never charged me a fee for retail purchases), and hacked the situation by transferring money from that account into another account which I hadn’t lost the card for yet. (Yes, “yet”….I was on a roll that year, and lost the other card about 10 days later!)

    The thing that bothered me the most about all ofthis was the fact that the check clearing company had access to so much highly personal information, even though I had never given them permission to access it. I really think that is the real issue here, not the fact that someone (who may also have lost a debit card, or had some other valid reason for writing a check, even if it was just their personal prejudice) is slowing things up by writing a check.

    Okay, time for a snarky comment – While I share your frustrations with slow check writers and people who are just generally inconsiderate of other people’s time, the fact that you all immediately jumped onto the “stupid checkwriting fool!” bandwagon quite frankly makes me wonder about the state of your personal lives. What a sad way to live…automatically assuming the worst about everyone, instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt. Bet you all have some fan-smacking-tastic marriages/relationships…

    You should all be ashamed of yourselves! Actually, you should all be suspended from commenting until you learn how to play nicely, if you’re going to attack someone who was just trying to contribute something useful. Tsk, tsk, tsk….

  65. briefly says:

    I can’t believe the number of people so quick to insult others based entirely on the use of checks. Checks are too old-school for you? Are you also going to make fun of the computer I use, or that I’d really prefer cassette tapes to mp3s? Grandma? You’re really going to stoop so low as to insult the elderly? There’s no reason to write checks? So those people in the grocery store are behaving entirely without reason? Somebody call the local psych ward!

    Part of consumers’ rights should be the freedom to pay with whatever mode of legal tender you prefer–what’s with the check bashing? If I’m supposed to respect your right to copy a mp3 file to as many devices as you want, why can’t you respect someone’s right to pay with a check? Seriously–who are you?

  66. acambras says:

    @fairywench:

    Best comment on the thread, IMHO.

  67. r81984 says:

    Only stupid people pay with checks in a retail store.

  68. CustomersRevenge says:

    They must do the same statistical analysis on credit card purchases too. I recently did have my credit card cloned and I am greatful that the card company flagged the transactions.

    To be honest I hardly ever write checks except to my friends (who don’t usually take credit cards) or to some small-time organisations like my sports clubs, etc. Never to strangers, although I never suspected that it was one of the most dangerous forms of payment.

  69. CustomersRevenge says:

    I recently had my credit card cloned and am very greatful for the statistical based hold they put in the card to prevent the thief from stealing too much.

    I don’t use checks very much at all except maybe to my friends (who don’t take credit cards) or to small time orgs like sports clubs I’m part of. Certainly I hardly ever give a check to strangers like store clerks, although I never suspected that the fraud potential was as high as the commenters here claim.

  70. dewrock says:

    I don’t mind people using checks at stores or whatever, but have it filled out before you get to the line and don’t fill out the register while holding up the rest of the line.

    The only thing worse than people writing checks in line are the people that write checks and fill out deposit slips in the bank line or bank drive thru. Have come consideration for other people.

  71. Amry says:

    Is it news that there are companies and reporting agencies who retailers work with to get approval on checks? At most stores, if you write a check, when the cashier puts it into the register and it dials out, it isn’t checking to see if you actually have the money in the account. It’s checking to see if, based on historical data (things like your check-writing history, any possible flags connected to your name and ID info, like heavy unusual spending from weird places), they can take the risk of approving it or if they should deny it.

    Maybe I’ve just worked in retail too long, but I thought this was common knowledge. This is definitely the first time I’ve heard an explanation like this, though – usually it’s something like “you just wrote two checks for $200 within the last 2 hours and otherwise have only written 2 other checks in the past year”.

  72. niteflytes says:

    Does anyone use cash anymore?

  73. Keter says:

    I ran into trouble with Certegy when I used a debit card to pay for a closeout laptop computer at Office Depot. They declined it, and I had to have a friend of mine put it on his credit card (which was over the limit, but still went through!) in order to get the computer.

    It was about 5:45 on a weekday afternoon: I had gone to a store near my home after work after having had the unit put on hold by another store closer to my work since they were out of stock. I had more than 3X the amount of the purchase in the debit account, and proof of it (a receipt from lunchtime when I withdrew $20 to get lunch and pulled a balance, as I usually do). The store would not take a check after the debit was declined, even though I had full ID and the reason for decline was stated as “statistical,” not overdrawn.

    I called Certegy, incensed, and they sent me a “qualification” packet (so a decline for a large purchase would never happen again) that looked like the perfect gateway to identity theft. I did not complete the packet. If I ever run into this issue again, I will leave the merchandise, and provide the retailer (and any interested media outlet) with evidence of the large sale they lost due to Certegy’s “policies.”

    Based on my experience, Certegy is up to something that has absolutely NOTHING to do with protecting merchants from fraudulent charges and everything to do with a particularly dangerous (to the consumer) form of datamining.

  74. DudeAsInCool says:

    Funny you should ask, Niteflytes. I came across this article today which says “some retailers could soon start surcharging customers if they choose to buy products with cash because of the greater cost of processing these payments.”

    http://www.silicon.com/financialservices/

  75. Omri says:

    With due respect, checks are retarded. Not like in that nuanced way where checks have some disabilities but are special in their own way. And not even like South Park retarded funny ha ha. More like “using checks should not be allowed, because your absurd fears of debit card driven identity theft are not worth inconveniencing the non pathological part of the human population”.

    As for cash: cash is gross. Billions of really dirty people touch cash. Many of them probably touch it with their particularly dirty, ink-stained, check-writing fingers.

    Both checks and cash should be treated the same way that paper airline tickets are treated – you’re more than welcome to do your impression of a very old and particularly ornery Amish luddite, but please understand that the rest of us have the right to see you financially punished for trying to make us dumber.

    Use plastic.


  76. Check risk management service companies like Certegy — of whom I’ve never heard before — and the grandaddy of them all, TeleCheck, all probably do risk-based turndowns at this point. I believe that practice started with TeleCheck, who also called that type of turndown a “code 3.” I used to work in the IT/software division at TCK; they take a LOT of care in creating the most accurate models they can to get at the risk inherent in some transactions. Not all point-of-sale checks are equally risky, obviously: jewelry can be reconverted to cash, but soup can’t, for example. Checkwriter demographics also matter. There are other factors, too — a low check number correlates slightly with risk, even though you can order checks with whatever number you want.

    These companies can do this because it’s not THEM that says “don’t take the check.” It’s the store’s call; TCK has just told them what they think. However, the flagship program at TCK is actually one where a TCK approval == a good check, at least from the merchant’s point of view. If a TCK approved check bounces, TCK pays the merchant anyway and makes it up on collections (and the bounce fee). If the merchant accepts a check TCK said not to take, they don’t get paid. MOST turndowns on the TCK system are based on real negative data (i.e., an outstanding bounced check — n.b. that a habit of bouncing checks and then paying the fee is NOT considered negative data by TCK, since that’s bread and butter revenue for them), but the frontier of the business is in risk management based on heuristic analysis of the transaction. SCAN, back when I worked there, couldn’t do that, and consequently was much cheaper. They were also much less effective at catching POS fraud, though.

  77. @DudeAsInCool: Yeah, but that quote was from the chief executive of Visa Europe. Not exactly an unbiased opinion. I wish the article had explained the cost of accepting cash. I would have thought there wouldn’t be much beyond the cost of the employees working the register and taking the money to the bank.

    @niteflytes: I pay cash any place they won’t take a card. Some places won’t take cards for small amounts and I’ll pay cash for small purchases even if they do. There’s also a movie theater that still charges for the use of a card but I don’t normally go there.

  78. DudeAsInCool says:

    Omri : “With due respect, checks are retarded”

    As a consumer, it’s my choice to use what is convenient. From a financial viewpoint, had you considered that checks provide a small cash float–you earn interest instead of the other party the longer money stays in your own account.

    I find it ironic that most people here are more interested in convenience than consumer protection. And with all due respect, Omri, you sir, are a corporate lackey– I’d rather hang with the Amish any day

  79. DudeAsInCool says:

    Great God Chet: 1) “It’s the store’s call; TCK has just told them what they think. However, the flagship program at TCK is actually one where a TCK approval” 2)” MOST turndowns on the TCK system are based on real negative data (i.e., an outstanding bounced check”

    1) True, Walgreen’s hired Citergy, but the Walgreen’s staff just follow the recommendation blindly, and when you call Citergy, they confirm that you are unlikely to get a reversal. I was only able to do so by writing a new check number. 2) The turndown had nothing to do with my check writing history–apparently the store itself has had a problem with bad checks (I only went there that day, because the store I usually go to, was out of my product); I was told it had nothing to do with me personally, it was based on pure statistics… that is why I posted

  80. Yeah, exactly. Code 3 style turndowns are never issued if there’s negative data that would justify a “hard” turndown. The merchant’s made the call to not accept any check Cintergy deems risky, and the clerk doesn’t have the juice to override it.

    Notwithstanding what they said, I suspect your turndown as based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to time of day, issuing bank, check number, age of account, merchant’s SIC code, what you were buying, and the check history of the merchant.

    As they say, it was ever thus. TeleCheck’s been doing this for more than a decade, and I’m sure they’ve annoyed a lot of people in the process, but them’s the breaks. It saves TCK money, and saves the merchants money, so the practice has spread to other check-risk-management firms.

  81. DudeAsInCool says:

    The Great God Chet: “TeleCheck’s been doing this for more than a decade, and I’m sure they’ve annoyed a lot of people in the process, but them’s the breaks. It saves TCK money, and saves the merchants money, so the practice has spread to other check-risk-management firms.”

    How do you know it saves Telecheck money? And why should it be the breaks? If Walgreen had checked my account with them, they would have seen I had a perfect record. Why should companies be allowed to do this? Further, the legal mumbo jumbo at the bottom suggests to me that they are open to potential suits for defamation… More to the point, why should companies be allowed to keep records on consumers without permission? They are not God.

  82. thegcnetlife says:

    I work in a retail store that prints the checks so they don’t have to be filled out and then you sign a receipt and get your check back because it’s electronic but douchebags insist on still filling their checks out or even writing checks at all. Ridiculous and a waste of time.

  83. star_ says:

    “A check?

    Checks are for paying bills from home. Leap into the 21st century and get a debit card.”

    That’s last-century thinking. I pay all my bills via credit card and ACH transfers. No checks. No postage. I don’t even get any bills or statements in the mail and haven’t for several years.

    I don’t even want a debit card. Why use a debit card when I get 1-6% cash-back on all transactions through my credit cards? Using a debit card would be throwing away about $1000 a year.

    I have an ATM only card for my checking account. It’s only used to make deposits and occasionally withdraw cash. I feel secure in knowing I haven’t exposed my entire checking account to being drained via a debit card.

  84. star_ says:

    “As a consumer, it’s my choice to use what is convenient. From a financial viewpoint, had you considered that checks provide a small cash float–you earn interest instead of the other party the longer money stays in your own account.”

    Nowhere near the float you’d get by using a credit card and paying it in full after the statement cuts.

    With “Check 21″ rules, your float on checks is very minimal now.

  85. ixfazed says:

    I work at CompUSA. All checks are ran through Certigy. BestBuy uses it, as well as the grocery stores. Write one bad check, and you get declined at every retail store that uses this system. The only time it will potentially decline a check if the customer is not shady is when you are a first time shopper at a store writing a fairly large check. The cashiers do not know the reason why it was declined and are only told to refer to the sheet that has code 1, code 2, and code 3 alerts, and even those don’t really give you a true reason.

  86. tgtT.M. says:

    It’s just plain mean and rude to use a check at Target. ALL employees’ transactions are timed, and using a check obviously gives the team member a longer time. So please, don’t use checks.

  87. khloeejean says:

    During the sale of some funiture @ Jennifer Convertibles on 04/28/07, we were declined by Certegy. Yes, the sale was of a substantial amount, but since I don’t normally use a debit card and since in the 25 years of writing checks, I have never bounced a check, I didn’t think that there would be a problem and since I normally carry a substantial balance in the account, there shouldn’t be. The company (CERTEGY) declined the check and I was livid. I called our bank to verify that there was enough in our account to cover the sale. Assured that there was and then some and after having the clerk talk to the bank manager, I had the clerk call Certegy back for me and after waiting on hold for too long, patience is a virtue that I am terribly short on, and listening to the automated crap on their service, I finally got a real human that actually spoke English. After a short discussion with her and after quickly realizing that she would not help me, didn’t want to or couldn’t because she only flies a desk, I asked for her Supervisor. Waited some more. I think they want you to go away by making you hold for so long. After speaking with the supervisor at some length, I was told that the reason we were declined was that I did not have enough history with THEIR system for them to be able to approve my check for the amount of sale. Their history only goes back 13 months. After a somewhat heated discussion with her, she was able to research our check writing history further, what a surprise, and was only then approved for the sale. Oh, and we now have been afforded VIP status. It does help to complain, but you had better be right when you do. We were on the verge of taking our sale to another furniture company. Only through my perseverance that day, was I able to get the problem corrected. Moral: If you have a problem with Certegy declining your check, have the VENDOR call them back right then, wait through the crap that you have to listen to on their system, wait some more, get a human on the line and if you are not satisfied with the response you get from your first person, ask for a supervisor and have them rectify the problem. It does not help your case if you get vulgar or argumentative with them. They are only doing what they are paid to do. And most of them are only being paid minimum wage at best. ONLY do this if you are willing to wait for the time it takes and if your account actually has the necessary funds available to cover the checks’ amount. Certegy verifies to the vendor that your check is OK. If it comes back for NSF, Certegy comes after you. Not the vendor. Complain when you are right, but, do it tactfully. Have all your information in order. It can be accomplished and worth the time invested, but you have to be willing to chase it all the way to the end once you start it.