Laura Roberts has money but can't seem to buy anything without a hassle.
“It doesn't make any sense logistically The money is there, I’ve never had a problem. I have an excellent credit score, never had a bounced check and yet I can't access my own funds,” explained Roberts.
She's blaming that on a company called Certegy, one of the country's largest check authorization companies. It’s used by major retailers including Safeway, Target and Best Buy.
Now, I've seen Laura's bank account and she’s had no less than $20,000 in her account over the last four years. But when she's out shopping, there are times Certegy tells the retailer not to take her check.
“It's really humiliating. I don't want anyone to think I'm someone of poor character or dishonest,” said Roberts.
After Certegy declined to two checks to Lowe's and approved another, Laura contacted the company for answers. It sent a letter saying the transaction fell outside of the guidelines Certegy has established for authorization. No specifics were given.
“It just says, ‘you don't meet our criteria,’” said Roberts. “But when you press them on what the criteria is, they don't really want to tell you.”
Certegy says every check is unique, so you can be approved today but denied tomorrow. The company says it uses a risk model to accept checks but won't say how it makes its decisions.
We tried to get information on Laura's case from Certegy but the company wouldn't give us any specifics.
One group that would talk was the Federal Trade Commission, which sued Certegy last year.
“The lawsuit was based on two things. First, they were failing to adequately monitor and follow up with consumers disputes and secondly their databases did not assure maximum possible accuracy regarding the information they had,” explained Chuck Harwood of the FTC.
Harwood says Certegy promised to improve its process following the settlement of the suit. Still, consumers can't sit around. They have to be proactive.
“It's possible that they've got inaccurate information. They combined two accounts, two separate people’s accounts,” explained Harwood. “The consumer needs to act quickly and aggressively to try to find out what’s going on.”
Certegy offers a free VIP program it says will help avoid declined checks. You should also check your credit report. The company should give you a free one each year. Check it for mistakes and, if you find something, dispute it in writing.
If you don't get the answer you want, let the FTC know. That's what Laura's had to do and, while she waits to hear back about her case, she's just going to be more selective about where she spends her money.
“What I ultimately want is for Certegy to understand is I'm not a statistic. I’m a person. I have money. I have a life. I like to shop,” said Roberts.