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I sent a check (~$1,500) through my online bill pay service to a company. That company claims they never received the check but the checked cleared and the money was deducted from my account. I have the cleared check image that clearly shows the company name and address (which were both confirmed by that company as being correct). Unfortunately, the only signature on the back is the word "Deposit" so I don't know who actually cashed it.

I worked with my bank for about six months trying to get the money for the company, but they still don't have it. Now the company claims I am responsible for never paying them. Does the cleared check with their name and address on it for the correct amount protect me legally if they come after me? Do I have any liability whatsoever in this situation?

  • In what country, and if the US, what state are you located? Where is the business that you have the dispute with located? – David Siegel Feb 17 at 0:08
  • Both are in South Carolina. – BitwiseJon Feb 17 at 2:22
  • Can you get your bank to confirm which account the money went to? Also, have you tried sending the company a copy of the cleared check image? Its possible this is just an internal accounting screw-up. – Paul Johnson Feb 17 at 9:23
  • Good questions Paul. You would think the bank could tell me that, but they cannot. They use a 3rd party bill pay provider and must open a ticket with them to do this. The company has the copy of my cleared check but they still claim they never received it. They think another company at the same UPS store where they have their mailbox got it by mistake and deposited it. We went through about six months of working with the bill pay provider and having the company sign affidavits of fraud to no avail. I am going to check back with my bank this week to see where the investigation ended up. – BitwiseJon Feb 18 at 13:18
  • I have deleted my answer, as the issue in another answer it was responding to had been addressed. But this Q&A has further relevant information: law.stackexchange.com/questions/37564/… – David Siegel Feb 24 at 13:13
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It protects you for that debt.

However, the company may be saying you paid that one, but there is another one they are dunning you for.

You need to hold onto those proofs for dear life, and if those are on some sort of online service, you need to print them out, several copies, and capture a PDF. Online services are notorious for shutting off your access to documents after a time period. One example is the US Postal Service will only show "proof of delivery" of mail online for 90 days. After that, they figure you have resolved your eBay issue or whatever. However, the IRS moves much slower than that, so you can get a rude surprise when preparing for tax court.

The bigger problem is your credit report

The company does have the option of putting a black mark on your credit report. You may not care now, but it will stick for seven years. It will affect your ability to get credit, rent a home, and get a job.

Sue them

One legal option is a legal action to silence the question. You use this when you have dangling uncertainties: you fear another person might sue you, or they are considering avoiding court and taking lesser actions such as collector harassment or a credit report burn.

So you can force them into court, saying "There is a dispute between us. They say X, and I say Y. I am asking the court to resolve this now." Exhibit A is the proof that they did sell you a product or service at a price, and Exhibit B is proof you did pay for it.

Really, it's their job (not yours) to prove they sold you something, but here's the thing. If you do a good job showing their side of the argument, it makes you look fair and reasonable to the judge... and if they don't have anything to deny or add, they may not even show up. That's not an automatic forfeit, the judge will simply decide based on the facts you've presented.

This sounds like an open-and-shut case, and the size makes it just the kind of case small claims court is for.

Once the court rules you do not owe the debt, they cannot engage in collection actions, and credit reporting agencies must remove the mark.

  • Thank you, @Harper. Upvoted. Note that the "no lawyer" part isn't true in most jurisdictions. See my answer for examples. – David Siegel Feb 17 at 1:00

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