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Jail Time for a $14 Bounced Check? How Private Debt Collectors Cash in Posing as the Government

By Mosi Secret, ProPublica. Posted March 12, 2009.

American Corrective Counseling Services uses threats and coercion to cash in on consumers on behalf of district attorneys.

With the seal of Santa Barbara County’s district attorney on its cover, the envelope caught Jennifer Osborn’s attention immediately. And when she opened it, Osborn read something startling: She was being accused of a crime.

Osborn, the letter alleged, had "violated criminal statutes by issuing a bad check." She faced as much as a year in jail and a $2,500 fine unless she made good, paid an additional $215 in fees and spent a Saturday at a "financial accountability class."

The letter stunned the 20-year-old college sophomore. Osborn was unaware that a $92 check she’d written to her school bookstore had bounced, the result of a mix-up with her mom, she said. "Failure to pay in full and schedule class within TEN DAYS from the date of this Notice may result in your case being forwarded for criminal prosecution," the letter threatened.

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