Letters are sent by the thousands to people who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up. They bear the seal and signature of the district attorney’s office, but the New York Times says the letters are from debt-collection companies that prosecutors allow to use their letterhead.
In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys. The practice has spread to more than 300 district attorneys' offices in recent years. Consumer lawyers have challenged the debt collectors in court, arguing that they lack the authority to threaten prosecution or to ask for fees for classes when no district attorney has reviewed the facts of the cases. The district attorneys are renting out their stationery, the lawyers say, allowing the companies to imply that failure to respond could lead to charges, when it rarely does.