BOUNTIFUL -- They say if you wait around long enough that which was old will become new again. I remember as a kid, further back than I care to mention, days when cash was king and businesses were reluctant to accept a personal check. Times change and keep changing. Now, today, many businesses are once more giving personal checks the cold shoulder. The trend, at least locally, appears to have begun at area fast food restaurants. Residents may remember when signs went up at franchises of one national chain this past spring announcing that, as of a certain date, they would no longer accept checks.
From now on, such locations are accepting only cash, checking or "debit" cards and credit cards. Not everyone is happy about it and worry more and different types of businesses will join the trend.
Other businesses, including retail giant Wal-Mart, are employing a different system. They provide instant check verification, directly crediting your account and handing back the cancelled check.
The big question is why?
Some customers claim that businesses are doing it just to make things easier on themselves and their staff and "to the devil" with the customer. Meanwhile, some businesses say its really all about customer convenience, as they try to keep pace with the new trading habits of the American consumer.
Jo Gove, in charge of Operational Fraud Prevention for Mountain America Credit Union, said that claims businesses are pushing the idea for their own ease and convenience are a little off the mark.
"It actually costs more to do a card than a check transaction," she said. "The major reason for the trend is the prevention of check fraud.
"Lost or stolen checks can be used by fraudsters," said Gove. "Merchants have no way to verify the information on the checks and banks, by law, can't give out a lot of information about customers' accounts. The result is businesses can't immediately tell if it's a valid check."
Banks, she noted, can usually recognize a counterfeit check right away and stop it. But in the interim between when the check was written and it reaches the bank, a check fraud artist can do an enormous amount of financial damage.
According to Gove, such fraud is going on all the time, and not just with personal checks. A similar problem has been discovered with regard to cashiers' checks and money orders, usually for purchases made on the Internet.
"If a check book is stolen," Gove said, "banks and credit unions can stop that for the rightful owners' account. But, that doesn't stop the buying power of the checks."
But, if you have a card and it's lost or stolen, she quickly added, you can quickly call in and the card is immediately voided and there's no purchasing.
"If I were a merchant," said Gove, "I would not be accepting checks either."
The volume of bad checks written, she continued, has tripled over the past three years. Many of those using lost or stolen checks are drug users and have absolutely no conscience when it comes to identity theft.
"Often, the people using the checks have taken them from members of their own family," she said.
Then there are check theft rings. Once acquired, the checks are taken by the thieves to people who make up vast copies of the checks then sell them to other people who pass them. The checks can even be modified with a different name, address and phone number.
Gove advises consumers to be very careful with check books. Thieves check mail boxes and troll parking lots of stores, workplaces and churches. Check books have even been left in unattended shopping carts.
As for businesses?
"The number one thing for merchants to do," said Gove, "is to really look at those photo IDs. Take an extra second or two and really compare the picture to the person."