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Buck Stops Here: 'Wall of Shame' seems like a fair idea

Remember going into stores as a kid and seeing copies of bounced checks pinned to the wall behind the cash register? They were fairly common because they were effective at discouraging bad checks and getting customers to make good on their debts. In the latest installment of her Buck Stops Here column, Melanie Thomas ponders the practice for today's business environment.

Remember going into stores as a kid and seeing copies of bounced checks pinned to the wall behind the cash register? They were seen everywhere – at the beauty parlor, the local pharmacy, even the grocery store. Always posted in a prominent place to embarrass the signer, these chits lingered until the check was made good or the bulletin board ran out of room.

Whatever happened to that practice? I want to revive this custom on a grander, more global scale. Why don’t I create a new tab on our website and call it the Wall of Shame, scan copies of these rubber checks and then post them here? Then these worthless pieces of paper could be viewed and snickered over by our viewers and maybe cause one of the writers to think twice before taking advantage of another unsuspecting merchant.


I want to do this, I really do, but my lawyer won’t let me. Oh, I could do it alright, but I could also get my butt sued in the bargain.


How come the folks “back then” didn’t worry about a lawsuit? Is it because “back then” people had a sense of personal responsibility combined with a smidgen of pride, ultimately feeling accountable for their actions?

From what I recall, those thumb-tacked checks didn’t stay posted very long.

Not so much anymore.

We live in a world where it’s OK for someone to write us a bad check and steal our merchandise, yet I’m the one who can wind up in trouble for trying to warn others about this miscreant’s behavior.

Does anyone else see the injustice here?

Probably because credit cards weren’t around much when I was a little kid, the modern day spin on the bounced check scenario is the reversed credit card scam. Here’s how it works. Someone finds our website and froths at the mouth over several items and negotiates a discounted, packaged deal buying two, usually three things. We then run the charge and ship the pieces out, only to get a phone call a few days later to be told item one and two were not exactly what they expected, but they LOVE item three, which they want to keep at the discounted price, of course.

Customers like this really stink and we usually smell them coming. We then have to decide if we’re willing to let the buyer keep the one item, try to negotiate a higher price for said item or inform the buyer to send everything back, which is our usual way of dealing with this situation. That’s right: We’d rather have it all back than sell one discounted item. We’re not falling for that old trick any more.


A highly compensated medical professional pulled this scheme on us not too long ago. When given the above choices, he opted to send everything back. Upon receipt, we promptly refunded all monies on his credit card. But this guy was a real pro. He waited exactly 31 days after we processed his refund to contact his credit card company to reverse the charges again, giving himself a $17,300 interest-free loan against our bank balance. Apparently, he knew the customer service reps at his credit card company could only see a 30-day transaction history on their screens, so when he asked for the reversal they failed to note we had already issued him a full credit. It took 10 business days to get our money back.

Nice guy, huh? Would you want this man to be your doctor? Me neither.

Then there’s the New York tourist who purchased an 1885 Wells Fargo shotgun. He fell in love with it while in our store, paid with a credit card and left, proudly cradling the shotgun in his arms, probably lost in some fantasy about being Doc Holliday.

Anyway, either he had a bad case of buyer’s remorse or his wife gave him a hard time, I don’t know. All I do know is three weeks later the gun was back on our doorstep with one small problem. Though the shipper’s box was in pristine condition, the shotgun had obviously been dropped on a very hard surface because the butt plate and stock were chipped to smithereens, rendering the shotgun’s collectible value worthless.

Perhaps his wife attempted to bludgeon him and missed, hitting something like a concrete block wall in their basement.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine
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The New Yorker claimed the damage must have happened during the return shipment. As I stated earlier, the box was perfect. He filed an insurance claim against the shipper and wanted us, specifically me, to tell the shipper the box was crushed, thus damaging the shotgun; in a nutshell, he wanted me to lie and say it was the shipper’s fault.

Refusing to commit a felony on his behalf (I’m kinda funny that way), Mr. New York gave me a tongue lashing that left blood running from my ears. He also tried to reverse the charge on his credit card, but this time I was two steps ahead of him. I’d already called our credit card processor and told them what was going on, reiterating the antique was so badly damaged its value was basically nil. I also sent them photographs of the shotgun both before Mr. New York left the store with it and after it came back.
They nipped this attempted insurance fraud in the bud.

Besides using our website for redress, I am aware the court system is at my disposal, where I can file a complaint and convince a judge these clowns owe us money. The judge agrees and then signs a document known as a judgment, stating how much we are owed.
Guess how many judgments I’ve been able to collect on over the past 20 years – that’s right – zip, zilch, nada.

There’s not much satisfaction in zero.

So, let’s get back to my Wall of Shame. What if I post these scenarios on our website, omitting names of course, but filling in enough details that if this person read the piece he’d recognize himself? And maybe his brother-in-law will recognize him, too.
This sounds fair to me. And though no one ever promised me the world was fair, how about a little payback every now and then?

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