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.