Bogus check writing -- down now, but expected to rise

Lawton_As the economy continues to slump, many are seeing their credit scores go down and their debt go up.  What is not up is the number of bogus checks submitted to the Comanche County District Attorney's office.  However, that's expected to go up. "We anticipate, just like everyone else, with the downturn in the economy, we will probably have an upturn in bogus checks," said Assistant District Attorney Fred Smith. "That will create more activity for our office, which will result in more charges being filed."

In 2006, ripped-off local merchants submitted 8,608 checks for investigation, and the District Attorney's office filed charges on 863 of those cases. They received 7,669 bad checks in 2007, and 808 cases went to court.  Last year, the number of bogus checks dropped to 6,550, and 652 received criminal charges.

The District Attorney's office has an entire division dedicated to investigating those bogus checks every month.  Some are for thousands of dollars--some just a few bucks. "From pizza for Friday night parties, to dog grooming, to rent, to a new car," Smith said.  "We have received checks for almost anything and everything you can imagine."

Smith says part of the drop-off in the number of bad checks is because more people are using credit and debit cards.  However, they're still recovering just as much money. "Even though the number of bogus checks has dropped out consistently in the last 3 years, this office has managed to recover, in every year for the last three year, over half a million dollars for local merchants," Smith said.

To track down the bogus check writers, the bogus checks division sends at least three letters to the culprit's last-known address.  They sometimes also make phone calls to relatives, landlords, and workplaces to find the person who passed the bad check. Once found, the district attorney's office works with culprits and merchants to set up a payment plan, rather than filing charges. That usually works, but 10 percent of the time, the culprit will face a misdemeanor, and if it's a severe case of fraud, they could be charged with a felony.

Smith says he hopes more merchants will take advantage of the bogus check division. The services don't cost merchants or taxpayers a thing, as the office is funded entirely through the court costs imposed on bogus check culprits.