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Bad Check System Rejects Good Ones Phone Numbers Used To Screen For High-Risk Customers

Thu., Jan. 11, 1996

Some Spokane residents phoning in fast-food orders got heartburn instead of pizza last weekend when they tried paying with a check.

South Hill resident Al Berger called Little Caesars to order home delivery of two pizzas for his teenage son and friends.

He was asked for his home phone number.

Then the trouble started.

“They told me that my check was a high-risk check,” said Berger, who owns a photo studio.

“But they didn’t even know my name. All they had was a number and this new system they had just started using.”

The Northwest CheckRite system, which made its debut less than 10 days ago, is intended to reduce the number of bad checks merchants get from customers - especially those ordering food delivered to their doorstep.

In addition to Little Caesars, other companies using the service are Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Coeur d’Alene pizza company.

Spokane-based CheckRite admits ticking off at least five customers whose checks were rejected by mistake.

When the Little Caesars clerk ran Berger’s phone number through a machine, CheckRite flagged it because someone else with the same number wrote a bad check years ago.

Berger called CheckRite on Monday, insisting the company’s information was wrong.

CheckRite later sent him a letter of apology.

To prevent further problems, the firm stopped the service and weeded out 12,000 phone numbers from its records that have had no activity in the past 18 months.

CheckRite owner Jerry Chambers would not say how many numbers remain in the anti-fraud system, which is now back in operation.

“Whether we want to keep using it, I’ll have to see,” said Jeff Welsh, owner of nine Little Caesars in Spokane. “It’s not worth aggravating the customers for the dollars we’d save (eliminating bad checks).”

CheckRite, operating here since 1983, helps businesses identify people who write bad checks. It also helps collect unpaid debts for those merchants.

Chambers said CheckRite normally provides a check-verification system based on names, not phone numbers. Someone writing a check has his or her name run through CheckRite’s records before leaving the store or restaurant.

The phone system was designed to eliminate the bad checks plaguing home-delivery restaurants, Chambers said.

Since starting home delivery in September, Little Caesars has been hit with twice as many bad checks, spokesman Bill Swanson said.

Berger said his experience demonstrates how one attempted solution can create another person’s problem.

“This was supposed to be a service to help a business track down bad check writers. It shows that those ideas, if not done right, can blow up in their face.”

, DataTimes


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