27 September 2012

District attorneys behaving badly

Some of them have been renting their name and official seal to debt-collecting companies, as explained in a NYT article:
The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices...

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed...

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected...

Even after Ms. Yartz paid $100.05 in February to cover the bounced check, the returned item fee and an administration fee, she got a letter signed by the Alameda district attorney informing her that her remaining balance was $180 for the class. After consulting with a lawyer, she decided to take her chances rather than pay for a class she could not afford, to avoid being punished for a crime she said she did not commit. Ms. Yartz also questioned the need for a class on budgeting and financial accountability: “If I meant to bounce this check like a criminal, why do I need a class on budgeting?” 
More details at the link, via BoingBoing.


  1. However, unlike consumer debt, which is a civil matter, bouncing a check is a criminal offense. I don't want to sound like I am condoning this activity by debt collectors. But bouncing a check and skipping a credit card payment are two totally different things. Apples and Oranges.

    1. Are you sure that bouncing a check per se is a criminal offense?? I think it is only if the intent was to defraud - at least that was my takeaway from the source article. I think lots of people bounce checks unintentionally and it's not treated as a criminal matter as long as they then rectify the matter.


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