Mysterious Check In the Mail

I owed a friend some money for some shared expenses. I used Fidelity’s online bill payment service to pay him because he doesn’t have a PayPal account and I was too lazy to find an envelope and a stamp.

A few weeks passed and I still don’t see the check hitting my account. Fidelity uses CheckFree for online bill payment. For personal payees not set up to receive electronic payments, CheckFree issues a paper check to the payee. CheckFree debits my account only after that paper check clears.

I was worried that CheckFree didn’t issue the check as I instructed. When I saw my friend again, I asked him if he had received the check. He said he did receive a check but he wasn’t sure what it was. He was afraid it was a scam.

I got curious in what made him think it could be a scam. So I used the system to pay myself. A check arrived few days later. It came by itself in an envelope, with no accompanying letter. The envelope just says Payment Processing Center with a PO Box in Hickory, NC.

The check looks like this:

For obvious reasons I whited out the identifying information and replaced them with markers. The name and address of the person who’s paying the bill (“payor”) show up in (1). The optional note the payor entered with the bill payment is printed in (2). The payee’s name and address show up in (3).

There is a “Please Direct Any Questions” section in the top center of the check. It lists a toll free number 877-246-7923 and an address:

Payment Processing Center
PO Box 1029
Hickory, NC 28603-1029

If you suspect it’s a scam, you are not going to call that toll free number.

The bank routing number on the bottom of the check is 071923828. It belongs to Northern Trust in Illinois. That’s the bank used by the online bill payment service.

This check is of course legit. I know it because I made the online bill payment and I knew it was coming. If someone just receives it out of the blue, I see how it can be suspicious.

If you receive a check like this, don’t throw it away! If you are not sure whether it’s legit, contact the person whose name and address are shown on the top left of the check.

If you use online bill payment service from your bank to pay your friend or family, how do you make them more comfortable and not scare them?

Give them a heads-up. After you make the payment, tell them a check is coming in the mail in a few days. Tell them it’s coming from a bill payment service; it’s not going to be a personal check from you. Tell them the amount.

I thought the check would be obvious to my friend. I was wrong.

Enter a note/memo. Include a personal note or memo when you do the online bill payment. The note may help the payee recognize what the check is for.

I did include a note, but the font for the note isn’t very large on the check. My friend apparently missed it.

Can the bill payment service make it better for the payee? I think so. A letter would be nice. “So-and-so used our online bill payment service to pay you $XXX.XX. It’s for blah-blah-blah. If you have any questions about this check, please contact so-and-so at [phone number or email address].” That’ll do it.

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  1. nickel says

    Interesting. I’ve seen what the checks from our bank’s online billpay look like – I sent one to the wrong doctor by accident and they mailed it back to me – but I’ve never seen the envelope they come in or what (if anything) is included.

  2. Paul Broni says

    Count yourself as lucky that your online billpay checks do not clear until the recipient cashes them. At my bank, they are debited from my account on the date that I use for the check, regardless of whether the check has actually arrived by then (which it usually has) or cleared (which it usually has not).

    This is also a burden for the recipient when a check is lost, because the sender will swear up and down that the check was not only sent but also cashed, even when it was not.

  3. nickel says

    Ours are debited up front, but they are automatically credited back if they’re not cashed within a certain period of time. I actually took the errant check to the bank to find out how to re-deposit it when I learned that it had already been credited back. It was kind of funny, because nobody at the bank knew this was the policy, and they spent about 15 minutes on the phone with the online banking helpdesk to find out how to credit it back, only to find out it had already been done automatically.

  4. Harry Sit says

    The online billpay service by CheckFree has several good features:

    1. Debit only after recipient cashes the check (parity to handwritten paper check)
    2. Schedule payment by the guaranteed delivery date, not send date
    3. Receive e-bills

    Many large banks use CheckFree.

    • Patricia Stephens says

      Thanks for this info. I just received such a check because I had entered the wrong info on my billpay account. I thought it looked like a scam, but diligent research led me to your article. I cancelled the payment and issued a new one with the correct address. Again, thanks.

      Pat Stephens

  5. anie says

    My bank, USAA, does all the things that Check Free does, and for free! I think that FIA use of check free is free also…At any rate, the name of my bank is stamped on the check, so that is helpful in the legit department.
    And including a note is also helpful, as you have noted.

    • john says

      I also use USAA and they must have changed their policy because since January 2015 the checks that come from my account to another person have come from “payment processing center” and they were a week late. I’ve talked to USAA twice now and they say they don’t do that but obviously they do now. I’m not happy about this either.

    • Steven Finell says

      USAA uses CheckFree. CheckFree is the “Online Bill Payment Processing Center” printed at the top of the check. My bank, Redwood Credit Union, also uses CheckFree as its electronic payment processor.

      CheckFree is quite efficient. If the payee accepts electronic funds transfers (most banks, utility companies, and sizable businesses do), the payee receives payment the on the next banking day if the bank account holder orders the payment before the cutoff time (I believe the cutoff is 4:00 PM Pacific Time); some payees receive electronic funds transfers the same day if ordered before the cutoff time.

      A explained by others, CheckFree sends a paper check if the payee does not accept electronic funds transfers. When the account holder orders the payment, the system gives a “payment date” which is the date by which the payee should receive the check in the mail. If the account holder orders the payment before the cutoff time, the payment date is usually 2-4 days later, depending on the payee’s location (whether a Sunday intervenes might also be a factor). The date printed on the check is the payment date.

      In my experience, both as the account holder making payments and as payee, the check almost always arrives on the payment date and occasionally arrives a day early. However, by coincidence, today I received a check from a USAA account holder one day after the payment date.

  6. Henry says

    Regardless of whether a bank offers BillPay/CheckFree service or not, they may more often than not be using a third party BillPay vendor. If so, the funds are pulled from your account into the vendor’s account (which could be held at a different bank).

    As a result, these type of checks are LEGIT. The bank name may differ but there should be an accurate reference at the top lefthand corner of the check. The ABA number at the bottom will be that of a different bank and the client account number on the bottom left will be that of the billpay service.

    A recent transaction occurred with one of our accounts and we noticed that the 877 number was incorrect. If you notice that that is the case on of your checks as well, be sure to contact the institution where the check is written from so that they may contact their client. You’re doing them a service by alerting them. No custodian of assets wants their clients information to be incorrect and would want to avoid any fraudulant activity.

    Hope this helps.

  7. Stacie in Boston says

    I was wondering where the hell this money came from myself. so I googled the address. I was dancing around wondering if it was from some class action settlement, and I was singing, “Money money money” to myself.

    Upon further investigation, It is INDEED a check payment center. And, it’s a check that I sent myself through my online bank.

    Look at your bank account. I had forgotten I’d sent myself this check, too!

    AGAIN, it’s a check that I sent myself through my online bank.

  8. Cindy says

    I received a check on 6-02-12 in the amount of $9,000.00 . The sender is a Janet Campbell from Manitou Beach, Michigan. Why this check has come to me I have no idea but the bank is investigating it on Monday. It was sent through Online Bill Payment Processing Center phone #: 800-243-2508. Does anyone know if this is a Scam or what>??? HELP ME PLEASE…

  9. elizabeth garrity says

    why did i receive this check and have no idea what it is for can you help me with this.let me know what i should do about it.

  10. Rob says

    I live in NYS and I received one of these checks today. The weird thing is that the payer is my cousin who lives in GA. I didn’t expect it so, I called him to see what it was for. He had no idea what I was talking about. He doesn’t have an account with Nothern Trust. I see now that It’s a payment center, but the payer is not correct. My cousin did not send me any money. So who did?
    I’ll try the 877 number and let you know what happens.

  11. Garrett says

    I just received a $900 check from them yesterday and was sure it was a scam. Looks like its legit but now how do i figure out if there’s someone I need to thank? Nobody owed me that much money

  12. Tom Long says

    So, how does Northern Trust get paid for this service?
    Don’t tell me they do all this, including the mailing, for free!

  13. Harry says

    Northern Trust is CheckFree’s bank. It charges CheckFree. CheckFree produces the checks and mails them. CheckFree charges the payor’s bank for the billpay service. The bank charges (some) customers largely by overdraft fees. Everybody else rides free, except small amount of interest given up in a 0% checking account.

    • Avalon Hartman says

      So John,

      I just received one of these checks and am 1000% positive that the person who sent it is laundering $. How does this work exactly? I’m in the middle of a lawsuit against this person because sometimes you just have to do the right thing no matter how badly it stinks to be in the middle of it.

    • Steven Finell says

      That’s crazy. No one can launder money through the checking system because that leaves a complete paper trail. Money laundering means laundering cash received for illegal activity or on which no one paid income tax. The launderer is typically a crook that owns a business that typically handles a lot of cash: check cashing stores, pawn shops, bars, a real laundry, etc. Money laundering is a federal crime, and US prosecutors take it very seriously.

  14. Melanie Pike says

    I just received one of these checks out of the blue. I thought it was a scam, too, but then I finally noticed the person’s name and address in the upper left corner of the check. I’ve contacted her via Facebook to be 100% certain it’s from her (I honestly don’t know her outside of FB and writing–she’s a published author, while I am aiming for that) and am waiting. I do think it’s legit because she’s just that type of person. :) Also, she knows my husband has been out of work for nearly a month now and unemployment has taken its good ol’ time to come through. She’s being a sweetheart.

    Thanks for the info shared here. Glad to know that it’s undoubtedly legitimate and that I have a huge debt of gratitude owed to my friend. :)

  15. Claire says

    FYI, If you use for vacation rentals, this is the outfit that will pay your deposit refund. I received my check this week, but I recognized the amount and the name of the condo owner.

  16. George says

    I recently sent a payment to someone from a bank I normally do not make payments from (Bank of america). When I later checked my normal bank’s bill pay section and didn’t’ see any record of having made a payment, I generated a second bill pay using that bank. The recipient (of both checks) called me to say they had received two payments, and needless to say that thoroughly confused me (and them). They returned to me the Northern Trust check, and I called the 877-739-0856 number on the check and they cleared things up by letting me know it was a check generated through Bank of America’s bill pay function.
    I will also let everyone know, that Bank of America debits your account on the check date, regardless of when it is deposited. Funds are held in a holding account to be drawn upon when the check is cashed, but they have already been taken from your account previously. They also told me the check is good for 90 days from the date it was written.
    I hope this clears things up for those of you as confused as I was when the matter first came up.

  17. ken says

    I recieved this exact check today and was super confused.

    I had actually sent it to myself through american express serve.


  18. Marina says

    Thanks for the info. We just got a ck like this from payment processing plant in NC. Thought it wasa scam so googled the address. Didn’t recognize the name of payee. But then after reading your blog, the $ amt rang a bell. Thank you!

  19. Mitch Dempsey says

    where do I cash one of these checks? I do not want to deposit into my account, guess I still scared of fraud.

  20. Missy Peterson says

    Thank You, THANK YOU, to Harry Sit and the many people who took the time to comment on this. We monthly receive a fairly large payment from a payor who uses electronic banking and her checks are issued by this same Payment Processing Center in Hickory, NC. When we didn’t receive the check as usual I contacted the payor and she insisted that she had paid it. She checked with her bank and found that it had cleared her account. Then I panicked as I had checked with my bank to be sure I hadn’t deposited it, which I hadn’t. I was sure someone had stolen it and cashed it.
    Then I searched and found this article and comments which alerted me to the fact that often the money will be debited from the payor’s account and put in the account of the payment processing center to send out to the payee (me).
    Just about the time I was starting to call the payor, I received a call from the processing center (who had received an email from the payor) and she assured me that the actual check had not cleared, and that they could void the check and issue a new one. That is what I asked her to do. Now I’m a happy camper and so is the payor. So, thanks once again for all of your posts, folks!
    The only thing I still don’t like is that for obvious reasons, this company prints in very large all caps on the front of the envelope “PAYMENT ENCLOSED” which I fear alerts thieves to the fact that there is something valuable inside. But at least all is well right now. :)

  21. Terry says

    I received a check from them today. The problem is that it was from my company at our main address to My company at the billing address, and the account number on the check was my account number. I never contacted them nor did anybody from my company. I will be reporting them to the united states postal service on Monday for possible mail fraud. And to my bank as well.

  22. SillyGirl says

    Since this check came in a pre-sorted first class envelop (no postmark) I assumed it was junk mail. Thankfully I opened it just to make sure. And thankfully I found this article!

    The check is for my mortgage payment! I just set it up thru BECU Bill Pay. Apparently my address was the default for the biller & a paper check to my mortgage holder was sent to MY address.. Gads. Now I’ve had to submit a late ($10 charge), online payment for my mortgage, and will have to figure out how to get the money for this check back into my checking account. Obviously I have deleted this auto-payment from BECU.

  23. Lacey says

    I had a idem for sale on craigs list and the person wanting the idea mailed me one of these checks for payment needless to say it was a fraud so now i have to pay my bank back the money

  24. KP says

    Thank you for the info on this web site. It took some research but the check I received was legitimate….I almost threw it away. Luckily we have a small receivables account and by deduction I figured out that a parent was paying on a child’s acct. I too wish there was more info on the check like a memo line or something.

    For someone who may get one and not know why, I would go through your bank to cash it and speak with the manager to see what your protection is in case it does end up being a scam.

  25. djm says

    I received one of these checks about 2 months ago. It was so strange I took it to friends and asked what they thought. Every one of them thought it was a scam, so I destroyed it. I could not identify where it came from or what it was for. It was for over $800. Recently my son received 2 checks like mine and he informed me that they were legit. Groan! I still have no idea what it was for. There were only Cap Letters which did not spell anything to help identify it. Anyone ever get the check re-issued if it is destroyed?

  26. rob says

    Hi can anyone help me?
    I just received a check just like this, a family member died and this was left to me.
    what type of check is this and where can i cash it? i recently closed my last account and am not in a hurry to jump into a new bank or CU

    i’m not sure if it’s a cashiers check, because it doesn’t say on it. i’ve tried going around and no check cashing services will take it.

    i went to my local BOA, the brand which the check was issued from(note not the same branch) and they couldn’t do anything. this has become extremely frustrating, what are my options besides a new account?

    I should also note this came via BOA bill pay service, but no BOA markings are on the check, just northern trust

    • Jackie says

      You take it to a Check Cashing place I received many of these checks for the work I do, They are legit and real.

  27. stacy says

    Thanks for posting this. I thought it was fraud too, but because of this post I remember that a couple weeks ago I requested reimbursement from my son’s 529 account for college expenses that I had paid for out of our checking account. The amount matches and it makes sense. It would definitely help if there was more of a clue about what it was for and it did’t have a bulk mailing label.

  28. Andrw says

    Banking and so much else is so third-world in the US. I try to transfer money straight from my bank account to my daughter’s and instead they send her one of these paper mystery checks. WTF!!!

  29. Tammi Buchs says

    I have a bank named Woodforest bank that is holding my checks that are described here for 90 days because they think it is a scam. Help how can I get them to do something about it that letting them know these are real checks and that they need to be deposited before the 90 day hold.

  30. GPF says

    Myself, like one other commenter, had sent themselves a check thru the online bill pay feature provided by the American Express Serve PrePaid Debit/Credit Card. I posed as one of my creditors and simply sent myself a one dollar check. It arrived in less than 5 days. Serve by AMEX is the BEST and cheapest card to use. Check it out!! GPF

  31. Dan says


    My wife an I almost threw away a check WE WROTE TO OURSELVES out of our new business. This was from our Regions Bank online billpay.

    Don’t throw it away people until you double check! lol

    thanks again,


  32. Joanne says

    Bank of America also uses the same bill payment service. I send monthly automatic, repeating payments this way, and many times the money is re-deposited to my bank account 90 days later because the checks are not cashed.
    I finally sent a check to myself so I could see the way it looked, and I can now understand why people think it’s a scam. The return address says “Payment Processing Center
    P. O. Box 1029 Hickory, NC 28603-1029. There’s bold lettering above the window on the envelope #BWNHNJW.
    I scanned a copy of the envelope and I sent to the monthly check recipients so they are aware it is not a scam and they deposit my check.

  33. bnefriends says

    I use this service all the time and have seen these checks and the envelope more than once. When I was in high school I used to use this service to put money in my lunch account and that was the first time I actually saw one, then I’ve had them returned as undeliverable a couple of times. There’s been a couple of times the companies I’ve sent payments to didn’t give me credit for sending payment (one time was my high school, one time was a storage unit company, and one time was the IRS) and they call these companies on your behalf when that happens. After reading this, I’m going to have one of these checks sent to my girlfriend for like $5 just to be funny. 😛

  34. Ken says

    Just received a $1850.00 check from Northern Trust and it says DeVry sent it to me.
    I never attended DeVry University. I called DeVry and they also verified and said I wasn’t a student and that they would investigate.
    I called The Northerm Trust afterwards and they were no help because they do not give out information if you are not a customer with them…….soooo
    I Called the FDIC and spoke to a representative and he told me that most likely it is a bogus check but to check with Northern trust…which I already did. I contacted them again and they transferred me to the fraud division which is investigating and also devry university is investigating. I do not want to deposit the check because then I would owe them if the check bounces or even worse the person who sent it might have my bank info………..still waiting to hear back from them but most likely it is bogus. But if its legit I wouldn’t mind $1850 :)

  35. Pat says

    Thank you!! One of these checks was automatically deposited to an account I seldom use.
    I thought it was a scam; however your article made me do further research
    and found this mistake was my own. Bill payed an account; sent to this account
    in error. My error – your article saved me a lot of anguish!!

  36. Julianne Stevens says

    I received a check today in the amount of $384.89 and can not figure out who the payer is on the check. I do not want to deposit it in my account as I don’t want the person on the other end to find out my deposit number in the bank.
    My friend came over this evening and she looked at the check and I called my daughter and told her about it and I will call Payment Processing center in Hickory, NC Monday morning and see if they can tell me anything.
    If I don’t find out anything from them Monday, I will take it to my bank and let them see what it is all about. It is a different kind of way of paying me this amount and for what and is it a scam???

  37. Still think it's a scam says

    I still think this is a scam. I did not authorize a payment, BOA has no account of a payment and the check is written out to Travel Rewards. It is apparently authorized by me and has my BOA account information but no one has a paper trail for this payment. To me this looks like someone wants access to my banking information.

  38. Carol says

    We receive checks like this every month from customers who use their banks Online Bill Pay system. We have had where we have received checks from 2 separate people (different banks) in the same envelope. The strangest is that this week another business in our building received one of these checks and in the SAME ENVELOPE was a check to my business. I wonder if they are bunched together by addresses. The checks had dates 2 days apart also. Last month the same customer of ours was notified by us that we did not receive their payment. They checked with their bank had it showed it was sent. I wonder who received that one? We had not been having any issues with this Processing company until just recently.

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