Small, Local, Businesses Prosecuting Hot Check Writers

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POSTED: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 6:20pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 6:24pm

EL PASO - You may have done this at some point in your life by accident, but writing a bad check can quickly turn into a crime. Now the county is teaching local businesses how to go after hot check writers.

About a dozen small business owners and operators heard advice from county leaders today, on how to recoup lost money from bad checks.

"Lots of people make mistakes. That's not a crime. What occurs when it is a crime is when that person, after making a mistake, refuses to come forward and make good on that commitment to pay the money that's owed for whatever services or goods they have purchased," County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said.

Bernal's office recovered more than a million dollars for local businesses last year. That's money that could have otherwise left small El Paso businesses in the red. She also expects that same amount to be recovered this year. That's why the folks at one local grocery store are ready to prosecute anyone who hurts their business by writing a hot check.

There are seven Vista Markets in the Borderland. It's a locally owned, small grocery store that's seen its fair share of hot checks add up.

"We're local and everything we make, any profit, is local. When there's a bad check, it's money we don't have. If it's money we don't have, then it affects our bottom line," Ruben Sandoval said.

A bad bottom line could be the difference between staying competitive in a tough economy. Check writing alone is still the second most popular form of payment at the grocery store.

"On a weekly basis we get everything from non-sufficient funds, up too closed accounts, and forgery," Sandoval said.

Most of the time, when a shopper writes a hot check it's a mistake. They don't realize there's not enough cash in their account to cover their basket. Vista Market works with them to fix the situation, and it's over with no legal trouble. Then, there are the other times.

"There are incidents where some people might take advantage of our local business," Sandoval said.

Despite warnings on the registers, shoppers will knowingly write a hot check and refuse to pay up. That's when Vista Market goes after its loss.

"We prosecute to the full extent, depending on the situation," Sandoval said.

The folks at Vista Market say they take the tough stance so they don't have to pass on any additional costs to other shoppers.

The county offers all of their hot check services for free.

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