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Getting the State to do the Dirty Work

There is a disturbing trend in debt collection these days: getting the state to do the dirty work of intimidation and collection.

In some jurisdictions, notably Illinois, debt collectors are actually managing to get people who supposedly owe them money thrown into jail. This is obviously a dirty trick and happens primarily because the debt collectors are managing to set cases for trial where attendance in mandatory; whereas in most civil cases failure to show up for trial results in a default judgment, in these cases the judge issues a warrant for arrest.

The subject of this Scam Alert, however, is a little different. A scam involves trickery and deception, and that is what is happening in Missouri and elsewhere. In some places, Payday loan companies and other vulture companies are issuing short-term loans. What they do is require a post-dated check for the repayment.

Of course if you have a job – and keep it – and the post-dated check is made with that in mind, then when the money rolls in, you just pay off the debt.

Of course you do it at heart-breaking interest rates, but at least theoretically that is what you bargained for, and there’s no real confusion about what the deal is costing.

The problem comes in if something keeps you from getting that money you expected. In most loans, if you fail to make a payment you can be sued, and generally it is not a fun thing to be sued. If you have written a post-dated check, however, if you fail to make the payment (and cover the check), you are immediately subject to a civil penalty doubling the value of the check (in Missouri), and you may also be prosecuted to passing “bad checks.” Many lawmen are willingly allowing themselves to become the hitmen for these loan companies.

This is a “scam” because no one tells the people borrowing the money that failure to pay could result in an instant doubling of the loan or criminal prosecution, so payday loans, which charge such a high rate to account for the fact that people so often cannot make the payments, gets an extra level of security against default. And foists the risk of criminal enforcement onto people who don’t know what is happening.

It is also a perversion of the law.

Bad check laws were created to protect people who trusted the people writing them checks – writing a check is, legally, a sort of guarantee that the check-writer has the money to pay for the check in the bank at the moment the check is written.

Writing a check without the money in the bank is a type of fraud. But when a payday loan company accepts a post-dated check in exchange for a loan, they know the money is not there. There is no fraud when the check is written – and fraud requires that the intent to rip off the victim be present at the time the action which does rip them off (writing the check) is done. What’s happening here is that people who made a mistake about having money at a certain point in the future are being thrown into jail for that mistake. And the people on the other side of the transaction – the payday lenders – are perfectly aware that their customers have trouble with money – that’s who they target.

It is morally totally wrong for this to happen. But it is happening. So the lesson is, never pay for a loan – any loan under any circumstances – with a post-dated check. If the money isn’t in the bank, do not use a check.