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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Comments

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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 homeaway.com 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.

    THIS IS A REAL CHECK

  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.

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