May 24, 2018
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The story of a ‘bad’ check

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT

Here’s the story of a local consumer that we’ll call Sue. She wrote a check for a purchase she was making at a Bangor-area supermarket; the clerk scanned the check, which was rejected.

Sue was surprised, since she had more than enough money in her checking account to cover the purchase. The customer service person gave Sue a contact number and asked her to call Certegy Check Services. Before calling, Sue went to her bank and verified that there were sufficient funds to cover her check.

Then she called Certegy, and things got interesting. The instructions on the contact card asked callers to provide a driver’s license number, full name, current address, telephone and check numbers, check amount, checking account number and bank name. Sue was reluctant to provide that information.

After three calls a Certegy official explained the start of the problem.

It seems Sue had written a check six days earlier to the local branch of a major chain store. The check came back as having come from an invalid account. When Sue learned this, she and her husband went back to their bank and inquired further. The bank representative found that the check had never been received by the bank. The representative called Certegy, tracked down Sue’s check and asked for the account number. It turned out the account number did not match Sue’s account.

It appears that the problem originated with Sue’s check at the major chain. A scanner may have misread the account number, or a clerk may have copied it incorrectly. Whatever the case, it was not Sue’s fault. Certegy said the check for the chain store purchase would be re-submitted and that her account would be in good standing again. Originally, Sue had been told her check writing privileges would not be restored for seven days, as a matter of company policy. This concerned her, as she writes checks for prescription medications.

Sue wrote to Northeast CONTACT, and we forwarded her details to David Leach, principal examiner with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. He explained that Certegy, a licensed credit reporting agency in Maine, has been in business for nearly 30 years and is the largest check approval company in the United States.

Leach talked with an official at Certegy, who said his company had not been aware of Sue’s concerns regarding her prescriptions. Had Certegy been made aware of those concerns, the official said, Sue’s check writing privileges would have been restored immediately.

“As regulators, we hardly ever hear of such situations,” Leach told us. He said the check certification system generally works well and has prevented the passing of a large number of “bad” checks. Leach said the system is “designed to take the merchant out of the equation” and let the customer deal directly with Certegy or another similar firm.

He called Sue’s case an “outlier” situation, one which happens in a small minority of cases. On Friday, Sue said she has had no further problems cashing checks.

Sue is among a minority of vocal consumers who criticize Certegy’s multi-stop phone complaint system (call, explain, get transferred, explain again). Many who rant on blogs say they tire of the treatment and simply give up. Businesses using the service may consider a few customers’ anger worth the avoidance of a rising number of fraudulent checks.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

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