Both Dell And AT&T Cash Checks Not Made Out To Them, Cause Much Sadness

It’s sure to be a pain in the butt if you accidentally switch two of your payments — but we’d always assumed that companies like AT&T and Dell wouldn’t cash checks that were not even made out to them. We we wrong!

Meet Dennis Hallet and his wife, Sandra. “In thirty years I’ve never crossed up bills. I managed to send Dell my AT&T check and I sent AT&T my Dell check,” Sandra told CBS 13.

Dell cashed the check made out to AT&T and applied the $235.00 toward Sandra’s balance. AT&T cashed the $1138.33 check made out to Dell and applied the entire thing to the Hallet’s phone bill. This left them with a credit of $903.33.

Meanwhile, interest was piling up on her Dell account. When she called AT&T to see about getting her money back, they told her it was her fault they cashed a check made out to another company and told her they’d give her money back in two months.

CBS13 called and got AT&T to apologize and refund part of the money in 7 days– with July’s bill deducted. When asked why they cashed a check made out to another company, AT&T had no answer, so if you’re mailing a couple bills at the same time — make sure you put the checks in the correct envelopes and save yourself a huge headache.

Call Kurtis: Check Switcharoo [CBS13]
(Photo: jetsetpress )

Comments

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  1. Nissan288 says:

    Uh, isn’t this illegal?

  2. Shappie says:

    wow

  3. tande04 says:

    I was always amazed that the bank would take it in the first place. You’d think there would be a check there too. When I worked for Sears we’d get checks all the time for Penny’s, never had an issue with them.

  4. ArgusRun says:

    @Nissan288: My question exactly. I suppose it’s possible that they weren’t cashed yet but the amounts were credited to their accounts.

    Checking the bank statement would help.

  5. brainswarm says:

    Illegal and what actually happens are two different things. Some banks have been known to cash checks made out to Tweety Bird.

  6. razremytuxbuddy says:

    I’ve seen people go to prison for cashing a check made out to someone else. It was called bank fraud. They weren’t allowed to keep some of the money, hold the rest for a couple weeks and then return it when they got around to it.

  7. stevegoz says:

    @brainswarm: Chris Matthews has to bank somewhere!

  8. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Nissan288:

    Yes. I’ve actually got jury duty today over just such an allegation.

  9. cosmowayne says:

    Who looks at the front of the check? Accounts Receivable looks at the amount to apply to the account sent in with the check, turns the check over, stamps it and the bank deposits ANYTHING. AT&T’s unfriendly lack of a decent solution should be the point here. Cashing someone else’s check isn’t a story.

  10. mbd says:

    You need to start getting this reversed with YOUR bank. They should not have cleared the check.

    The reality is that nobody, including banks, looks at checks any more. It is all handled by machine. The banks find it cheaper to manually fix these occasional screwups than look at every check.

  11. Error is on the bank for putting the check through. That’s where the heat should be.

  12. nutrigm says:

    My BOA wouldn’t accept a check made out in my wife’s name into my account! (I had her consent ofcourse!) Amazing how Dell can cash a check made out to Chase! Definitely illegal!

  13. BigPapaCherry says:

    Isn’t it illegal to cash a check that is not made out to you? I’d say the bank should have caught this, but AT&T/Dell is just depositing the check with a “For Deposit Only” stamp and don’t actually have to sign the back with the name of the company.

    Still, someone at the bank or in accounting should’ve caught the checks. How about “Hmm, this check is WAAAY over what their monthly bill is, maybe I should check to see if it’s made out to this company”.

    With so many people behind in their bills, you’d think someone would notice when a bill was overpaid.

  14. jyoung86 says:

    I work for a certain company that does this all the time, particularly because of the massive volume of the checks. We used to look at them one at time but now they’ve moved to letting the bank cash process them with their fancy computers which can’t tell the difference. It’s partially because our name is almost identical to that of most of our competitors beacuse of a branding issue. Needless to say, we end up returning that money once an individual goes to apply it to an account and sees the check. Regardless, it’s most likely the bank that is doing this and not the companies themselves.

  15. SonicMan says:

    Been there. Had a Car Loan and a Mortgage with Chase. Switched them. Both transfers were made out to Chase….

    Since I setup auto pay wrong this went on for 2 months. Lucally I had anought to cover my back mortgage that was missing. My Car was paid off VERY early.

    Mistakes happen.

    But caching a check made out to a different company. Thats just wrong.

  16. alumicor says:

    Why am I not surprised?

  17. razremytuxbuddy says:

    @cosmowayne: Cashing someone else’s check SHOULD be the story. The fact that the check goes into the corporate processing mill, and the corporation wants you to accept this procedure as their get-out-of-jail free card, should not be accepted. Big corporations are not excused from following the law.

  18. DashTheHand says:

    BGE cashed a check that wasn’t made out to them that I accidentally sent it. No big deal since it was only a $50 check and I got that amount as a credit towards my next bill.

    When I called in to let them know that I mistakenly sent them in this check and find out what would happen with it, I was told by the service rep “Big companies like us get so many checks that they usually aren’t even looked at by a person, and just get processed through.”

    I don’t particularly understand how they are able to cash a check that wasn’t made out to them, written by hand, and still have it go through since they would obviously have to look at the amount unless the person that looks at the amount is clearly not looking at who it is made out to.

  19. Jeangenie says:

    Way back in the late 1980s, I took a summer course in Barbados (no hating, I lived in Miami) and I charged my airline tickets to my American Express card. I left some bills and corresponding checks for my mom to pay while I was away.

    One to Amex (for $800 & change) and one to Amoco ($40). She mixed the bills up and each company cashed the wrong check. I tried to get this reversed. As Amex is not a credit card not a charge card. I did not need a $760 credit on a gas card (um, gas was way south of $2/gal then). I asked for a refund–they refused. Many many phone calls–many many escalations. Nada. So, in the end I had to deal. Amex agreed not to ding me and I bought lots of stuff over the next year as the convenience mart at Amoco–hey, they didn’t card for alcohol either, bonus!

    Basically, they wore me down and I had to put every penny towards the AMEX bill.

  20. seismic007 says:

    On a related note, my Chase checking terms state that they are not responsible for most anything on the face of the check. You would think the bank would see the check and say hey–this is for another company and not deposit it. This isn’t the case. Checks is checks to them. They process them through without looking at anything more than the amount.

  21. Jeangenie says:

    Ooops, meant “but a charge card.”

  22. strixus says:

    This happened to my father once. He mixed up the cable check for the house and rent check for his office. The rent check was drawn on the business account, the cable on the personal account. So not only did the cable company cash a check not made out to them, it was written by a company rather than the individual they were billing!

    Needless to say, it was much easier sorting things out with the landlord than the cable company.

  23. differcult says:

    They can’t take what isn’t theirs…their name wasnt on the check…not their money. Pretty simple case of Fraud.

  24. fostina1 says:

    check fraud is illegal. dell and at&t should both go to jail for check frauad.

  25. Zimorodok says:

    Nothing beats the time my old boss mailed my paycheck to American Express. I got it back from from Amex 2 weeks later along with a note that said, “This isn’t ours.”

  26. MayorBee says:

    @Jeangenie: Couldn’t you have just canceled the Amoco card? If there was no account, they should have had to refund it then. More than likely a threat to cancel would have gotten their attention.

  27. coan_net says:

    Many big companies will cash checks like that even if they are (1) made out to the wrong person, (2) has a wrong or post-dated date, or even (3) not signed.

    I don’t know about legality of it all – but I know that it has been like that for a long time.

  28. blue_duck says:

    Most commercial banks with large amounts of checks for accounts don’t even look at who the checks are made out to.

  29. Landru says:

    This sounds like it is very common for customers to do this. Why am I so not surprised that there are no policies in place to deal with it?

  30. tange1 says:

    @coan_net: Big business can often process checks on there own and send all info (check images, account numbers, amounts) electronically to the bank for processing. The bank sometimes never see’s the check images if its all automated like my companies system is.

  31. jacksbrokenego says:

    Same thing happened to me a few years back – I sent my student loan check to the electric company and vice versa. When I spoke to the electric company they told me that I was out of luck and would just have to deal with having a large credit on the account. And of course I now had to come up with extra $ to make the rest of my loan payment.

    I spent a lot of time on the phone with both the electric company and my bank, neither backed down. I completely lost it with the bank CSR and asked how it is that they could cash a check for a party that the check was not made out to – they couldn’t answer that, but did agree that it wouldn’t work if I wanted to cash a check that was made out to someone else – that’s called fraud.

    I think a lot of it boils down to a mistake that a lot of companies probably don’t have a well-known policy for handling, and incompetent/apathetic CSRs will sooner say ‘oops, sorry for the inconvenience’ rather than put forth an effort to help a customer.

  32. juniper says:

    Both Dell and AT&T, if you’re sending back your check with a remittance slip, don’t process their own checks. Really, they don’t. A third party, usually a bank, processes them en masse. Checks, along with remittances (those slips where you write your amount, that have the OCR line at the bottom), are never touched by AT&T or Dell.

    Here’s a quickie on the process, feel free to ask more if I don’t cover something:

    1) You pop your check, along with remittance slip, in the mail. It’s going to a P.O. Box.

    2) The check goes to a lockbox facility, and depending on the P.O. Box, gets divided into the “wholesale” lockbox division. There is a “retail” lockbox division which is for a different thing entirely, this is why sometimes odd bills that aren’t your regular bill have a different address on them. If you send your regular bill to them it will delay processing.

    3) The mail is tamped by machine (all innards of the envelope pushed down to the bottom) and opened by machine (tamping first so the slicer doesn’t slice your check).

    4) After removal of your check and remittance, they are scanned, together, in a huge scanner that scans hundreds or thousands of checks per minute. Your check, along with your remittance, go in next to one another, and are “associated” with one another. Association errors happen, too, and that results in your check being credited to someone else’s bill, or vice-versa. It happens.

    5) Your check info is scanned, and credited to the OCR line on your remittance slip, which contains your account information, automatically. Ninety-nine percent of the time, no human associated with this process.

    6) Deposits are made instantaneously when your check is scanned in and credited to the associated account.
    6a) Some companies, though probably not AT&T or Dell, receive transmission files with all deposits for the day, to them upload into a database that the company keeps.

    Note here that there is no one looking at the check. That’s right. NO ONE LOOKS AT YOUR CHECK. It is scanned, a machine reads the number written in the box for the amount you sent, and it is associated with the account on the OCR line on the remittance slip.

    There are no human beings involved. No fraud is happening here. It’s a machine error, and part of the price we pay for the convenience of automated billing.

    It shouldn’t take two months to get a refund from this error, but there’s really not anything at all that AT&T or Dell can do – they never touched those checks. AT&T and Dell probably did make a report to the lockbox vendor – but yes, it can really take time to get that sorted out.

    One lesson you can take away from this, though:
    If you want a human being to look at your check or your remittance slip, cut off the OCR line on the remittance slip. It will delay your payment by a few days, but a human being will definitely have to look at it, see any note you put on there, and enter it manually. Consider it a little “lockbox hack.”

    Full disclosure: I do not work for AT&T, Dell, or a lockbox facility, but I work at an organization that uses a lockbox service and I am the point of contact. I have toured numerous lockbox facilities and can answer questions on this topic with confidence.

  33. Roxie says:

    Ummm…frankly, I don’t think this can be avoided. Do you guys have any idea how many hundreds/thousands of checks will get sent to AT&T or Dell every day? Given the huge volume of checks received, the people in the payment centers where these checks are sent will not look and make sure every single check is made out to them. They’ll just process them with their machinery and get the money into their company’s accounts right away. Dell and AT&T don’t make deposits with checks the way we do. They aren’t personally taking a stack or bundle of checks to the bank, and they’re not going to prepare their deposits the same way we do. They’re not going to look at every single check, either, and make sure they’re okay to process. So it’s no real surprise that this’ll happen.

    There are a couple of things you could do if this happens to you. First off–if you catch your mistake fast enough (before the checks clear and you can see them in your bank account), put a stop payment on both checks, then rewrite your checks and send them to the proper businesses. And depending on how close you are to your due dates, you might also want to call customer service for both businesses and tell them what’s happened, and that they’ll be receiving new checks very soon.

    The other thing you could do is, you could wait for these checks to get processed, then call up customer service for the businesses involved and explain the situation, then see about how to get money credited back to you if you overpaid or chip in some extra cash if the check they got isn’t enough.

    I strongly suggest that people do NOT start going on about check fraud to the bank or to these businesses. That really isn’t going to solve anything–and if nothing else, these businesses will probably point the finger at you and blame you in the end for sending the wrong checks to them. Yeah, what the businesses do in situations like this is fraud, technically, so they’re just as responsible as you are for this mix-up, but you tell me–how do you find a needle in a haystack? That’s what this can be like when you’re dealing with such a huge number of checks coming to you 24/7 that you have to process right away, and out of all those checks, only a handful of them would be made out to the wrong person/business.

  34. Benny Gesserit says:

    With the volume of cheques companies see, all they care about is coding the amount and getting it to the bank.

    And with the MASSES of cheques going though the bank, it’d be naive to assume they look at each individual one either. They key the amount into the MICR line at the bottom of the cheque, get it scanned and they’re in business. They depend on the customer to let them know when something’s not right.

    That said, it’s miserable that neither company managed to cut the girl any slack. It’s awful that the media was her only tool for getting action.

    And, if you live in Canada, beware of:
    - staledated cheques as they’re detected and returned “at the banks discretion” (meaning that old cheque you found just might cash-give it a whirl!) and
    - post-dated cheques are “an agreement between the signor and the payee only” – meaning those 12 cheques you wrote your landlord yesterday could be applied en masse to your account tomorrow – the Back Act’s official opinion is that he’s “on his honour” not to cash them early.

    I found the last one out when my landlord cashed May/June at the same time and the bank said “Not our problem – here, have a copy of the Bank Act.”

  35. jacksbrokenego says:

    @juniper:

    Thanks for the insight on what the process is like. But with all due respect, I think the point is that regardless of how it happened, what goes on behind the scenes should be seamless to the consumer. As a customer, I don’t want to know what hoops a CSR has to jump through to correct a mistake, I just want some help. I think the larger issue is that AT&T could care less about the OP waiting 2mos to get the money back.

    Also – just because the process is automated, doesn’t mean that it’s okay and we should chalk it up to convenience of automated billing, that’s a cop-out.

  36. stacye says:

    @juniper: Something like this should be a consumerist article. You should send it in to the tips line.

    Good info to know.

  37. Roxie says:

    @juniper: Nice to know someone else here knows about this kind of stuff too. :D

    Uh, I’d like to add something, though, as a data entry person who works at a bank and does similar work as the folks at these payment centers. I bet that these payment centers still do need people to actually look at the checks because the scanners (or “sorters” like what we have at the bank?) will not be able to accurately read everything on every check. The machinery we have at work, for example, tends to be really good at reading checks with typewritten information, or checks that were fed into a printer and got the information printed on it that way. It’s not so good at accurately reading handwriting from an actual human. A lot of the time, it messes up–either gives us a lot of “?????” back as information, or it puts in the wrong amounts. So people ARE needed to supply the information in the MICR line and/or the amounts of checks.

    If these payment center folks are anything like item processing folks like me, then the only thing we’ll be looking at, on a computer screen, is the amounts on these checks. In my line of work, you quickly learn to develop a kind of tunnel vision where you only focus on the amount box on a check, or its guaranteed amount line, because you have no time to look at anything else on the checks. The thing is, it’s not the concern of this kind of department to be on the lookout for checks that were written improperly–sent to the wrong account, or is stale/post-dated, or is missing info. There are OTHER departments at a bank, anyway, that will take care of that, but it’s not the responsibility or duty of this kind of data entry department to do that kind of close inspection. And I bet this holds true for a payment processing center, too. :)

  38. AgentTuttle says:

    Adding to the Simpsons avitar club. At least the bank should have caught it. Hell knows they refuse a check I submit that has a mistake on it.

    Bottom line is this country is Of the corporation, By the corporation and For the corporation.

  39. I bet the robots would notice if you wrote a different amount in the number box than you write out in words. If I was informed correctly, the long version is the binding one.

    @juniper: Sure, robots are reading your checks. But if they can read some of your writing, they can read the addressee and flag ones that aren’t close.

  40. enm4r says:

    It’s nice to see that juniper and Roxie know about lockboxes. As someone who has set up lockboxes for commercial clients, I just want to add two things.

    If there is no OCR line, it will be looked at by a human. If it’s looked at by a human, BofA will not post a check with the wrong payee. Say what you will about BofA, but they don’t post with wrong payees. It’d make my life a lot easier if they did.

    Also, cutting off the scanline is probably the best idea I’ve heard here to ensure it passes through human hands. It should not delay your check from clearing, it will still be processed in the same amount of time. The only thing that might delay is how long it takes the company you’re paying to post to your account. You’ll always be able to go back and say “but my check cleared on xxx” which will not be delayed.

  41. bobpence says:

    Devil’s advocacy:

    Case 1: You send swapped checks and neither company cashes the “wrong” checks, instead charging you a fee for non-payment or late payment. Call Consumerist!

    Case 2: You sent AT&T an overpayment because you were going to be traveling. But they refunded the overage, and now are charging you late fees. Call Consumerist!

    Case 3: Someone sends you an overpayment and demands an immediate refund of the overage. To their address in Nigeria.

    AT&T should refund the whole overage — less pending charges — in a timely manner. It appears they did.

  42. latemodel says:

    Same thing happened to me. After studying the Uniform Commercial Code and some case law, the answer seems to be that banks are allowed to ignore alot of the previous laws governing check clearing since the Check 21 law was enacted in 2004. All checks are cleared electronically now. My banker told me that no check less than $2000 is looked at for verification of anything, including signature or endorsement.

  43. GirlCat says:

    This happened to me, too: Time Warner Cable got the check made out to my doctor. For reasons I cannot recall, I didn’t know there had been a mix-up, I thought someone had stolen a check out of my garbage (why would I think that? I shred birthday cards I’m so paranoid). So, I filed a police report. When I realized what had actually happened, I called TW and said Please refund the amount I paid over the amount due. “Oh, we can’t do that; it will have to remain a credit.” I explained that, in fact, they had cashed a check made out to someone else. No dice. Then I said the Magic Words, “Well, this is a problem: I filed a police report because I thought the check had been stolen. I’ll have to contact the police and explain what really happened and how you cashed a check that wasn’t made out to you.” Bing, bang! Supervisor! Sorry, ma’am! We’ll send you a check immediately, ma’am! Thank you for your patience, ma’am!

  44. weakdome says:

    Honestly? I’m surprised someone hasn’t said this already.
    Who writes checks anymore?
    And who uses envelopes?
    And stamps?
    Pshaw.
    E-billpay FTW. I don’t sully my hands with the work of such peons!

  45. ophmarketing says:

    And yet in the meantime, when I try to cash a $20 birthday check a well-meaning aunt has made out to my 2-year-old daughter–who has the same last name and address as I do–I have to hold her up to the teller window and explain that SHE DOESN’T HAVE AN ACCOUNT BECAUSE SHE’S TWO!!

  46. juniper says:

    @Michael Belisle: ‘Fraid not. Those “robots” reading the number in the box on your check cannot read the payee on the line. In fact, the box on your check is printed with a special ink that is recognized as a “box” by the scanner – it reads inside the box only. It can only read numbers. (Incidentally, this is also why it’s usually lockbox facilities that catch fake checks, and not, say, your landlord.)

    Programmers have figured out how to get the scanner to read digits (ten of them, total), but aren’t yet up for OCR of handwritten letters. There are only so many ways to write 0-9… and the reader will still occasionally mess up.

  47. juniper says:

    @Roxie: re: handwritten checks.

    There are different scanners and sorters assigned to each “client” (i.e. Dell) based on their expected haul. For companies that get mostly typewritten or automatically generated checks, they can use older scanners. The newest, most state-of-the-art scanners are used for clients who are expected to get mostly handwritten checks – and they really can read that dollar amount in the box. It’s amazing.

    My organization chose our lockbox vendor partly because they took seriously that most checks will come handwritten, and pledged to use their best machine for us even though we are in no way their biggest or best client.

    There are payment processors like yourself, but they only look at the checks that come without remittances… because they have to manually associate the check with the right person. But they don’t touch the live checks – once they are scanned, they are immediately destroyed. The processor looks at a screen with the amount and the name in the upper corner, and associates manually. They don’t see the rest of the check.

  48. Dr Jones says:

    @ SonicMan: I think you mean Luckily…Lucally? What is with the bad spelling people!

  49. cjones27 says:

    @razremytuxbuddy: Yes, but those are people! Silly consumer, laws don’t apply to corporations!

  50. Jeangenie says:

    @MayorBee: I could have, but it had lots of benefits that I liked having (auto club stuff–points). I learned my lesson–be very careful when paying bills and don’t trust mom. Should have learned that don’t trust mom earlier——but that’s another story.

    When I was in law school, I took a Negotiable Instruments (aka checks, bonds, etc) class. My study method was to remember two things: 1) Negotiability is king and 2) banks have big lobbies.

  51. ibored says:

    @juniper

    the thing you miss is that the machien also OCR’s the text in the amoutn box. Otherwise the ywoudl be guessing at what the amount is (and you could pay your $999 dollar bill from verizon with a $1 check. It would be a simple effort to also OCR the payment to line and flag things that don’t match. There is already built in functionality to have people review possible OCR errors (or OCR unable to reads) this should be the same situation for the to line.

    Full disclosure: I developed OCR equipment and procedures as part of an internship that were used by the USPS to read the ENTIRE address on your envelope (creepy huh)

    I think I would use the GirlCat method if this happens to me. Oops is not a legal defense and this is a crime.

  52. mbrutsch says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I’m pretty sure it’s only illegal when people do it. It’s not illegal for corporations to do it. Something about intent.

  53. Nofsdad says:

    BofA’s online bill pay isn’t the answer either. I authorized a payment to my electric company for $54.84 and BofA sent them $5484.00 which needless to say I did NOT have.

    Even though I caught what had happened within hours and contacted customer service to get it corrected, they told me that they would make three attempts to debit my account over a three day period before the amount would be deemed unpayable and returned to them, and that there would be a $35 fee for each attempt.

    Sure enough, I got 3 $35 insufficient fund fees for a total of $105 right off the top of my next Social Security direct deposit. That’s an eighth of my total flipping income.

    I called CR after getting a couple of outside agencies and consumer groups involved and several days of hassling they agreed to refund the fees but as what I can only assume was a parting shot they then charged me a $35 “returned item” fee.

    I gave up on that one. I figured what the hell, if they’re that damned desperate, let them keep it.

  54. @juniper: I don’t doubt that some machines don’t read it because it’s understandably not a high-priority issue. But if machines can read the legal amount, they can read the payee. From the description of the A2iA reading software:

    A2iA CheckReader can accurately read and locate:

    • Courtesy and Legal Amounts (CAR+LAR)
    • Address of the Payer
    • Date
    • Payee Name
    • MICR Codeline
    • Presence of the Signature

    A2iA CheckReader compares the payee name on the check to the issue file and is able to detect modifications. [www.a2ia.com]

    Intuitively, a not-terribly-challenging problem is to simply assign a score to the metric “This check should be written out to AT&T. What’s the probability that this scrawl says AT&T?”

    I’m surprised that some systems would really by able to get away with only checking the number in the box, since I’m still of the impression (after searching Google) that it’s not legally binding.

  55. juniper says:

    @ibored: We’re talking about two different things – an OCR on the kind of remittances that the OP would have sent our are Unicode OCR codes (usually OCR-A). A different kind of reader reads the digits in the amount box if it can, after they are scanned into an image. The Unicode is scanned and immediately associated with the check’s own information at the bottom (bank routing number, account, check number), the amount is another step in the process that happens after the check is image-scanned and the digits in the box “read.”

    The Post Office has a very different system than that for commercial lockbox vendors – they are reading something for an entirely different purpose and there is no association between multiple pieces. Apples to oranges.

  56. Nofsdad says:

    @Dr Jones:
    >>What is with the bad spelling people!<<

    Uh… wasn’t that an interrogatory sentence? And if so, wouldn’t a question mark have been the more approprate puncuation?

  57. juniper says:

    @Michael Belisle: You’re right, it’s not legally binding. We recently had someone put “2″ in the number box and “Two Hundred” in the text line… and the number that got recorded was two, regardless of what he checked off on the remittance slip and what he wrote. There are limits to the technology.

    I’d be curious to know who uses that software. I live in a large market for lockbox vendors and have toured six facilities, all of different banks, and none have this kind of technology in use. They still use people to read and key these things if a client requests it. Eventually all the banks invest in this stuff to one-up one another, but until then, we are left with the masses.

  58. nsv says:

    When I was a kid (that’s a good excuse for everything, right?) I had a part time job and I owed the IRS $1.

    I made the check out to the Infernal Revenue Service.

    I made sure my handwriting was very clear. The check was cashed, there were no problems, and they didn’t even send somebody to kneecap me.

    Now, I sure as hell wouldn’t do that today…

  59. mythago says:

    This is absolutely the bank’s fault. They’re processing checks without bothering to confirm that they are made out to the person/business depositing the checks.

  60. chiieddy says:

    @tande04: The bank takes it because the transaction is EFT rather than the company actually cashing the paper check.

  61. MrEvil says:

    @juniper: The Post office has had OCR for several years. Only 5% or so of first class mail is hand sorted these days, and that’s just limited to oversize or odd shape items. The machinery can read the return address and the to address and sort the mail all by machine right to the individual routes. these OCR machines all do this within a fraction of a second even on hand-written mail. I understand there’s a difference between the USPS system and what the lockbox companies. But the technology DOES exist to read every handwritten character on paper.

    This also does not negate the fact that the digit amount on the check is not the legal amount. I learned very quickly from running cash registers that if the written amount was not correct for the transaction and the store accepted it the customer has no obligation to correct the error. So obviously since the lockbox companies are able to recognize what the written amount says then it shouldn’t be a huge stretch for the machines to recognize the payee.

  62. enm4r says:

    @Michael Belisle: Interesting. Like juniper I’ve never seen this in place. The problem, as I see it, would be clients that have boxes that have literally hundreds of acceptable payees. It’s not always as simple as one or two.

    Example: a place like a hospital, where checks might be made out to any given doctor, but in fact be sent to the same lockbox. It would be interesting to see whether or not the probability can remain high enough to be significant or worthwhile.

  63. juniper says:

    @enm4r: That’s a good point – I never thought of that. My org has about 12 acceptable payees that mean “us.” We do occasionally get a live check for the wrong payee mailed back to us, caught because it came with no remittance slip or because it had the wrong remittance slip.

    I tend the catch the wrong-payee stragglers because my org has the bank send us the scans of the images of the check and remittance (and envelope, for what it’s worth). It’s my job to read them over because people correct their addresses or send us messages on the remittance slips (and sometimes the memo line on the check). I’ve caught two wrong payees in the past year.

  64. civicmon says:

    SOP for the bank should be to reject this check. Why it was accepted by the bank is another story.

  65. SchuylerH says:

    Same thing happened to me years ago – sent the rent check to the credit card company and the credit card check to the landlord. The landlord called and said I had to send a new check; the credit card company cashed it, the bank processed it. When I called the bank to see why, I was told they don’t double-check those kind of transactions. At least my rent at the time was more than my credit card bill, so I didn’t wind up paying interest on the balance.

    C’est la vie.

  66. @juniper: @enm4r: Now that I think of it, I remember hearing about the special ink in the courtesy amount box, which would be presumably be uneccesary with modern technology. So I imagine it’s just a matter of the investment it would take to upgrade to more comprehensive automation. If the errors are rare and check use is declining, I can see how it might not be worth it.

    Thanks for the info about what goes on behind the scenes.

  67. dorastandpipe says:

    This happened to my grandmother and it was a total nightmare! She sent the wrong check to her insurance company and trying to get the money back was insane. Of course we asked, why did you cash a check not made out to your company…we got for an answer “Why did you send us a check that wasn’t made out to us?” Um, because the 96 year old lady has a hard time seeing????!!! No one looks at anything anymore, we were just happy they weren’t going to try and charge us some type of fee to get things fixed.

  68. North of 49 says:

    Online bill pay through banks, that’s what I use. Put in the account info, and then on payment day, just pay it online. No need to send it. I can even set it up to pay on a specific day for months.

    Or, take the kit and caboodle down to the bank. Mine will pay my bills “free of charge” with the teller.

  69. GirlCat says:

    @ibored: I should clarify that I filed the police report in good faith, thinking my check had been stolen. I don’t know if you can file a police report based on a company cashing an incorrect check and then refusing to refund your money. Unfortunately, this never came up on Law & Order.

  70. DebbieatDell says:

    @ Dennis and Sandra Hallet:

    I’ve emailed the editor and gave my contact information if you want to get a hold of me.

  71. I don’t mind the mixing up of the checks. I don’t even mind that these companies cashed checks that weren’t theirs. What I mind is that they are trying to issue a credit –and a delayed one at that– rather than return the money immediately. You overcharged me, now give me my refund… NOW!

  72. ibored says:

    @juniper

    I am well aware these are two seperate systems doing different things. However the person cashing the check has the responsiblity to do it correctly. I am saying the technology is there and so there is no excuse for illegally cashing a check. Association of pages has nothing to do with reading who the check is made out to

    In this case:

    1)”I didn’t read the check” is not a reasonablee defense in my eyes

    2)’We chose not to invest in available technology to make sure we didn’t commit a crime’ isn’t either

    3)Telling this person to bad and giving them a credit sounds a lot like an admission of check fraud.

    I’m not saying anythign would actually ever be done about this, but it should.

  73. sinrtb says:

    Let me see if I understand this whole situation especially the comments correctly.

    1: If i cash a check with somone elses name on it I goto jail

    2: if a corporation does it its an error

    3: companies get so much money that they cannot possibly look at every single check.

    4: because companies make so much money it is my fault when they commit bank fraud.

    Can someone please explain how making too much money is an excuse to cash a check made out to you? At what point is it ok for me to do this.

  74. Jmatthew says:

    “”It shouldn’t take two months to get a refund from this error, but there’s really not anything at all that AT&T or Dell can do – they never touched those checks. AT&T and Dell probably did make a report to the lockbox vendor – but yes, it can really take time to get that sorted out.”

    Actually, the problem is the law is really strict about what heppens when a check like this is inadvertantly cashed.

    And btw, accidently cashing a check not made out to you isn’t a crime. There has to be intent there.

    When a check is accidently cashed against the wrong party, it has to go back through the federal reserve system, which is where the hold up is. It’s illegal for us to keep that money, once the error is discovered (then we’d have intent), even if the issuer says it’s okay.

    What this means is, we can’t just cut you a check, it HAS to go back through the federal reserve, which takes 2-6wks. Why does it take 2-6weeks when everything else the reserve does takes a day? Not sure, a mystery of gov’t…

  75. mr mike says:

    @nutrigm:

    you mean AT&T not Chase