"Seriously, Is The Attorney General of Florida After Me For A $14 Bounced Check?"

Apparently the answer to that question is “yes.” CNN is reporting that several states have outsourced bounced check collections to a company that will track you down — even for minor accidental bounced checks — and make you take their personal finance class. By the way, the class costs $160.

CNN says:

The firm — American Corrective Counseling Services, or ACCS — splits the money it collects with the prosecutor’s office. But it also makes money from financial management courses that people who wrote the checks are required by law to attend at their own expense. And the company’s contract with the prosecutor’s office states those classes are its “principal business activity.”

The $14 check Michael O’Neil wrote to a Florida drugstore ended up costing him $285, including the $160 class fee.

O’Neil said he and his wife tried to make good on the checks with the merchants involved and pay any fees required. But he said the companies told him it was too late — they had turned the matter over to ACCS.

The couple had been in Michigan for 10 months before they got their first notice from the company, which warned that “the State Attorney will not discharge the report(s) of criminal activity against you until all program requirements, including attending class, have been met.”

Public Citizen has filed lawsuits in California, Indiana and Florida, accusing ACCS of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by “moving against people without establishing probable cause, as prosecutors would be required to do.”

CNN interviewed Barney Frank, head of the House Financial Services Committee, who was unaware that small checks were being prosecuted under the law that allows outsourcing.

“The way it had been represented to us is that it was a way to avoid criminal prosecution,” Rep. Barney Frank, now chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, told CNN. “So I would be surprised if someone were to be prosecuted for one check for a few dollars.”

Frank, D-Massachusetts, said the complaints raised by people with the collection process were “the first time this has been brought to my attention,” and he told CNN that perhaps the law needs “some looking into.”

A trip to ACCS’ website uncovered this description of the services they provide:

“ACCS is the leader in developing customized solutions for America’s Prosecutors with the management of high volume misdemeanor cases.” All the people interviewed by CNN said they’d accidentally bounced a check and hadn’t intended to do anything criminal.

Bounced-check collection deals draw fire [CNN via CL&P Blog]