It used to be that retailers and district attorneys’ offices faced the same problem, but from different angles. People write an awful lot of bad checks. They might be trying to commit fraud, or they might have just forgotten to carry the one the last time they balanced their checkbook. Stores send the bad checks on to district attorneys’ offices if they think there might be fraud, and the DAs can end up overwhelmed with bad-check cases. They also hire collection agencies to recoup the money owed from their customers, but the rate of return on that isn’t so great. The not-so-obvious solution, which 300 district attorneys take part in: lend their names and letterhead to collection agencies, who in turn threaten check-bouncers with prosecution and prison.
Yes, let’s get the question out of the way: “People still write checks?” They do. And as recently as 2009, people wrote $127 billion worth of bad checks. People wrote a lot more checks in general back in the late ’80s when the first debt collector/DA partnerships began. DAs tell the New York Times that the scary letters only go out once customers have already ignored a few requests for payment. They typically include the amount of the original check, and fees that include tuition to mandatory “financial accountability” courses. The customer’s local district attorney gets a cut of those fees.
In Prosecutors, Debt Collectors Find a Partner [New York Times] (Thanks to everyone who sent this in!)