Bad checks plague Demopolis

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

It may be the worst feeling for a working man or woman who tries to make a decent living and pay the bills. It’s that thin envelope from a bank with one thin piece of paper inside. "Insufficient Funds."

For most responsible citizens, that envelope doesn’t spell the end of the world, and it surely doesn’t mean jail time.

Take, for instance, Parr’s Chevron. That bustling gas station receives numerous bad checks, and the store has a policy of making phone calls, sending certified letters, checking with the bank and monitoring accounts, and then making more phone calls.

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For a person who writes a bad check, normally there is a 10-day grace period to get the check cleared with the store and the bank.

But once those 10 days expire, enter Bill Mason.

Mason doesn’t like to consider himself a collector for local businesses, but in a way that’s what he is &045;&045; at least to law enforcement officials who have grown to admire what Mason does in this county.

Jeff Manuel knows about that. Manuel, head of public safety in Demopolis, said Mason has helped clear out the municipal court system &045;&045; where bad check writers are prosecuted. And before Mason came along, Manuel and the Demopolis Police Department was forced to chase down all the bad checks in town.

Earlier this week, Mason sat in his office on the phone with one woman who pleaded desperately to get her daughter out of trouble.

It would have been easy for Mason and the Demopolis city court to prosecute this particular girl, but Mason knows his job isn’t just that of getting a person to court &045;&045; especially when someone wants to help clear bad checks. As Mason describes it, his job is to help "the victims." In this case, those victims are local stores that need to recoup money.

So far, that has worked, according to Manuel and Griggers.

On any normal Tuesday, when the Demopolis Police Department releases its weekly report, a number of arrests describe NWNI (or Negotiation of Worthless Negotiable Instrument).

And when a Demopolis Times reader sees an arrest for NWNI, it must be noted that those bad check writers were given numerous opportunities to make good on the checks.

As is the standard for Parr’s Chevron, Mason said all stores are required &045;&045; by law &045;&045; to give bad check writers a chance to clear the check.

And in order for the District Attorney’s office to prosecute a bad check writer, it must be proven that the suspect intentionally tried to defraud a business.

So is that the case for most bad checks? Absolutely not, Mason said.

The simple cases like that are settled quickly &045;&045; in most cases by businesses and their patrons.

Today, the biggest problem with bad check writers is the few who work the system over and over. When Mason first worked for the district attorney in the bad check division, he said a lot of people wrote just a few bad checks.

And Mason has an opinion about why those people write the checks.

For store owners, there are simple precautions to take. First, be careful about allowing patrons to write checks over the amount of the purchase.

Secondly, Mason said he tries to provide sheets of bad check writers, and local stores should use his tips.

And finally, places like Wal-Mart and grocery stores should use their in-store systems that give alerts when bad checks go through the system.