If anyone has received a "threatening" letter (or 400 of them, like I have) from these guys, do not panic! (Aside: I know they have this bad check program deal for many counties in California, but I'm not sure if this applies to any other states, but I wouldn't be surprised, since its totally bogus...) Okay, so here's the real deal:
The first letter (or "the second notice we have sent you", as the letter screamed at me, in caps lock and bold face) I received from them sent me into panic mode. The last thing I needed was more legal problems. The letter claimed it was from District Attorney Dolores A. Carr's Bad Check Restitution Program Office; it came complete with an official-looking seal and everything! Oddly, the return address was only a P.O. Box number-no physical address. (Red Flag #1), and the phone number I was supposed to call was not a 408 number (Santa Clara County's area code), but a 877 number (Red Flag #2). I called them, they told me I owe "them" $600+, and that I needed to pay it NOW. Seriously, like now. (Red Flag #3). A bunch of B.S. conversation ensued, I signed up for a "Financial Responsibility" Class, and said I would pay them $200 a month (aw, shucks, thanks for the generous payment plan!). Of course, I didn't. And I still haven't. Why, you ask?
The letter threatens all kinds of legal action (CRIMINAL charges-they literally make it sound like you are going to be prosecuted, guaranteed, if you don't pay up) because they assume that you knowingly, intentionally committed check fraud. WRONG.
I took a closer look at the 40th notice they sent me, and noticed it was postmarked as being mailed from Phoenix, AZ. The return address said San Jose, CA. WRONG again. With a little research, I discovered this:
These little "Bad Check Restitution" programs are nothing more than a debt collection agency, American Corrective Counseling Services, who has a contract/deal with various DA offices (so they can use the DA's name, posing as a government agency, basically.). The DA gets a cut of the profits from the money ACCS collects. They add a HUGE amount of their own, completely made-up fees (in my case, about $400 worth of fees). My point: SCAM.
Read the article on ProPublica.org, in the Justice Section: "Bounced Checks: How Local DA's Get a Cut of the Debt Collection Business", by Mosi Secret.
I'm not saying that one should not re-pay the money of their bounced checks-most of the time, it was a mistake anyway, not check fraud. Even if it was check fraud, they would literally have to take you to court to criminally prosecute you and prove that you willfully and knowingly wrote a bad check. So for my $12.00 bounced check at SuperSavers Market, Santa Clara County is going to spend the tax payer's money to take me to court? Please.
Oh, another thing: When I pointed out to the random person who answers when you call the 800 number (not a government employee, and not in Calfornia even) that he was nothing more than a debt collection agency who is harassing me (illegally, too, I think-there have actually been some class action lawsuits), and he needed to stop sending me letters and go to hell while he was at it, he was quite miffed, and hung up on me. (The letters didn't stop. Thanks for listening, MICHAEL SANCHEZ). SCAM. Be careful-don't pour your money into this in a panic. Do some research, and look at all your options.