(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
BENTON -- While Scott County's bad check restitution returns are higher than average, prosecuting attorney Paul Boyd is looking to do even better than that.
Now the Scott County prosecutor is seeking public assistance in locating about 80 individuals alleged to have written bad check to various merchants in Scott County.
In 2006, nearly 3,300 bad checks with a face value of about $300,000 were handled by the Scott County Prosecutor's office. County merchants received over $188,300 in restitution and fees toward the $300,000 for a return of over 63 percent of the reported loss.
"The merchant fees help offset other bad checks, and some of the bank charges a merchant suffers because of the bad check writers," Boyd said.
Lynn McKinnie, owner of McKinnie Bestway in Sikeston, said he's pleased with the 63 percent return of merchants' losses in the county and the work by the prosecuting attorney's office.
"You'd like to have a 100 percent, but you'll never get 100 percent. If you get 50 percent, you're lucky," McKinnie said.
Boyd agreed, estimating the average return of a reported loss is typically between 40 and 50 percent.
When McKinnie gets a returned check from a customer, it gets aggravating, he said.
"Usually when I get a bad check in, I'll send the customer a 10-day notice, and then send it to the prosecuting attorney if I don't hear from them," McKinnie said.
McKinnie charges the customer a $20 fee for bad checks, and the bank charges him $5.
"This check deal is a big problem," McKinnie said. "You try to base everybody honest, but then when you try to protect yourself, it always makes somebody mad (because you ask for their information). They don't understand."
However, McKinnie said his employees typically take a check-writing customer's Social Security number and driver's license number, but a lot of times they're given a wrong number and address.
"The 'criminal bad check writers' know which merchants are easy targets for passing rubber checks and are making off with services and merchandise," Boyd said. "An easy target is a merchant or cashier who is not vigilant in taking the steps necessary to identify the check writer at the time the check is passed."
Bad checks passed in Scott County have been from people claiming to live not only in the county but counties and cities throughout the state -- and even those from out of state.
"We get people from out of state who will blitz a town, and their checks don't event exist -- it looks like it might go through and doesn't," Boyd said.
Every merchant/cashier who obtains a check for goods or services should obtain enough information so the writer of that check can be tracked down, Boyd said.
Information necessary for collection is the writer's Social Security number, date of birth, present address, especially if that address differs from the one on the check and a comparison of the check writer with a valid personal identification. Otherwise, the check is virtually uncollectible in the criminal arena.
Without the merchant/cashier obtaining enough identifiers, law enforcement cannot track the alleged check writers down, determine if a forgery of a check has occurred or separate the innocent from guilty.
Since 2004 the Scott County Prosecutor's office has received over 7,700 bad checks with a face value of over $660,000. The return to merchants in restitution and fees has exceeded $419,000 which is a return of 63 percent of the total less.
Boyd credited the county's check collection software for the higher percentage of returns, among other things.
Boyd said: "Since we have been using an upgraded check collection software purchased in late 2003 coupled with the merchants' cooperation in obtaining the necessary identifiers of check writers, and the hard work of the prosecution staff, we have been able to make this level of return in the last few years to the Scott County merchants."