New School Teaches Rubber Check Writers Balancing Act
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Bounce a check, go to school.
That’s one option available to rubber-check writers under a program aimed at keeping the problem in check.
″It’s sort of a one-time offer that the district attorney is extending to these people and the idea of the program is to intervene and stop the behavior,″ said Don Mealing, executive director of American Corrective Counseling Services.
The 4 1/2 -year-old San Francisco company runs check-bouncing schools for Orange and Merced counties in California and some communities in Nevada. It will be starting a program in Santa Clara County next month.
″Everybody is a winner on this,″ said Rick Lofvendahl of the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office.
Merchants get their money back, police departments are freed from time- consuming investigations, taxpayers don’t have to pay for the program and the check bouncer wins because ″statistics so far show the classes really work,″ Lofvendahl said.
Here’s how it works:
Merchants refer bad-check writers to the prosector after demanding payment in writing and waiting 10 days. Offenders get a chance to go to school instead of facing prosecution, said Lofvendahl, who will oversee the Santa Clara County program.
Graduates won’t have a record, but the district attorney’s office keeps a list to keep out repeaters, Mealing said.
About 5,000 people have graduated from the company’s check-bouncing school. In Orange County, 3,500 people have completed the program this year, making more than $350,000 in restitution, Mealing said.
The daylong check-bouncing school is aimed at small-time offenders, not professional swindlers, and teaches through small groups. The school costs $50 plus $25 for each bad check. Violators also must make restitution.
If a person is flat out of money, the company will work out installment payments, Mealing said. He noted that in some cases, court fees and fines would amount to more than the cost of the classes.
At the start of the day, students are asked why they wrote bad checks, and counselors try to identify their behavior patterns.
For instance, someone who knew the checks would bounce but hoped to have the money later is ″taking advantage of the victim ... but their intentions are good. Meanwhile, they’ve basically floated themselves a short-term loan,″ Mealing said.
The other major category of bad-check writers are procrastinators who never got around to covering checks, he said.
To break through excuses, the class includes exercises such as role- playing, where one person acts out the part of the person stuck with the bum check. Other subjects include balancing a checkbook and budgeting.
″They come to the program usually very hostile and very sure of their position as being not one of criminal intent and yet by the end of the day our program is very good at removing the rationalizations,″ Mealing said
With a recession-shadowed holiday season approaching, county officials and consumer advocates are bracing for a flurry of bad paper. The recession means people have less money and more desire to cheer themselves or their family with a purchase, something Mealing calls ″retail therapy.″