“The farthest away we ever found a bad check writer was New Zealand,” Scott Adkisson told the small group gathered at 7:30 a.m. in the St. Paul police station “If I remember right, it was a check for $34.62 and we got the money back.”
Adkisson directs Financial Crimes Services, a private company working with the St. Paul Police Department and the County Attorney’s office to recover money for merchants who get stuck with bad checks. Working in more than a hundred jurisdictions in Minnesota and Wisconsin, FCS recovered $2,380,506.11 in 2007. (About another million dollars is being paid over time in individually-negotiated installment plans.) FCS has been working in Minneapolis for about eight years, and began working in St. Paul in May.
The system operates as a pre-trial diversion program for people who bounce checks—they avoid arrest and criminal prosecution, and the person who received the bad check gets the money due (and bank charges). Bad check writers who do not pay up face criminal prosecution. FCS investigators—four former police officers—investigate and turn over the evidence to the police department and prosecutors. The public/private collaboration means that businesses—and individuals—have a place to go for collection of bad checks without paying a fee.
Adkisson says the FCS database is helpful in identifying repeat offenders who might otherwise slip under the radar. He cites a case of an individual who wrote checks for less than $15, which does not seem like a big enough case to prosecute. However, the FCS database showed that the aggregate amount of bad checks, over a two-year period, was more than $4,000.
The FCS system is open to merchants, to financial institutions, and even, said Adkisson, “to a citizen with a $5 bad check from a garage sale.”
In addition to collecting the money owed, FCS requires bad check writers to pay a $30 fee to FCS and to attend (and pay for) a financial management course. The fees for processing and for the course mean that the service is cost-free for merchants and for the city and county.