First, letters are mailed to the people who wrote the bad checks. Offenders are given 14 days to pay the amount of the check, plus a $50 fine. Half of the fine goes to the merchant, and half goes to the attorney's office.
When the 14 days are up, if the check hasn't been paid, then the attorney presses charges.
If the check is written for less than $300, the offender receives a misdemeanor summons. If it is for more than $300, it's a felony, and an arrest warrant is issued. Campbell said if the person wrote a check on a closed account, it is assumed that they intended to commit a crime, and a warrant is issued no matter the amount.
Lunsford said the program is the "best thing" for her. Before, she sent out her own registered letters on store letterhead. If she mailed 10 then she might have gotten back five. Now, she doesn't have to do anything but take the returned checks to the attorney's office.
Bounced checks "are a big problem. It's at certain times of the year, especially around Christmas ...," said Lunsford, who has been with Save-A-Lot for 16 years. "I think the (county attorney) is doing a wonderful job. This is the best setup I've seen."
Merchants can protect themselves
Karen Harp, a legal assistant in Campbell's office, says that merchants also can protect themselves by getting a form of identification before accepting a check, two phone numbers and a driver's license number. Harp said it is important for clerks to check the information and write it down on the check themselves.
Harp encouraged people to participate in the program, which is free to merchants.
The program has helped Gary Wardrip at his country store, Parksville Trading Post, on Ky. 300.
Most of the time he doesn't have any problems with checks. His customers are regular and what he calls "real good people," but there are a "small percentage of people who won't pay.
"Thank God that isn't a lot of people."
Behind the counter in the store, which has a deli, groceries and a potbellied stove, there is a list of people from whom his cashiers are not supposed take checks.
Wardrip used to write letters to the people who wrote him bad checks, but he says the county has a much better collection rate.
"I think it's excellent for the merchant," he said. "I'm very grateful we have that program in this county."
The county attorney's office does the program without cost to the merchants. From the money it receives in fines, $45,000, some goes to pay for the cost of the program and the rest is returned to the Fiscal Court.
After auditing the books on the first 16 months of the program, Campbell turned over $15,000 to the county.
He asked magistrates for $3,000 to buy a new computer program that has more accounting features.
Offenders go through the district court system, and the judge often orders them to attend classes to learn how to budget and balance their checkbooks, Harp said, adding that they are all ordered to pay up.