Local News

More worthless checks float up in down economy

Posted March 18, 2009 11:15 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2009 7:34 a.m. EDT

— Officials say that whenever the economy goes down, the number of people writing bad checks tends to go up. A recent rise in worthless checks in Wake County has come after a four-year decline in the crime.

In 2005, officials issued about 5,000 warrants for bad checks. The number had steadily declined to 2,754 warrants issued last year.

In 2009, though, Wake County has issued more than 630 worthless-check warrants since January, officials said, and Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Rowland said there are hundreds more to be issued. At this rate, officials estimate they will issue more than 3,000 warrants by the end of the year.

Worthless-check cases land in Rowland’s courtroom. He usually issues a warrant, and the check-writer faces about $121 in court costs, covering the amount of the check, a returned-check fee for the person or business who got the check and the risk of a misdemeanor criminal conviction.

Before it gets that far, businesses often try to collect on a bad check by listing it with the county's Worthless Check Program, which gives the offender a chance to make restitution and avoid a criminal record. That route costs $60.

“If they don’t pay within 30 days, then we’ll send it to the magistrate with a warrant for their arrest,” Worthless Check Program coordinator Donna Moye said.

Rowland said he is usually willing, depending the circumstances, to work with defendants interested in making restitution for a worthless check.

“With the job crunch the way it is now, it’s hard enough to get a job with a clean record, much less if you have a misdemeanor conviction on your record,” Rowland said.