By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Because some of this area's population changes over given enough years, District Attorney Mike Riese and county Tax Collector/Treasurer Dawn Langston want to give local merchants a refresher course about a program that could help them recover money.

Called the Bad Check Enforcement Program, it is responsible for the small, but quite visible red signs posted in many places of business.

The signs publicize the program, telling customers if they write a bad check, they will be prosecuted.

andquot;We were doing this four years ago with a private investigator,andquot; Langston said.

Following a hiatus of about 18 months, the program resumed three months ago under Riese and Langston's directorship.

The original program extended in September 2005 a check diversion program previously adopted by the board of supervisors

Problem is, not all merchants are aware of it.

Any merchant, whether working in a larger business or working from home, can submit a customer's bad checks to Riese's office, fill out a short form and ask that his staff prosecute the customer for non-sufficient funds.

If the customers pay to take a class Langston's staff teaches once a month, and pay Riese's office $35 per each of their bad checks merchants have turned in, he or she won't be prosecuted under California Penal Code 1001.60.

For individuals who don't qualify or who fail the program and are prosecuted, fees collected are split between Riese and Langston's offices on a 70/30-percent basis.

Monies collected for the check amounts, plus any bank fees, are sent to the merchants the victims of the crime via county check.

Riese and Langston share costs of the program.

The Bad Check/check diversion program offers, on a one-time only basis, the chance to learn or relearn how to balance a check book.

It also requires the check-writers to make good on the non-sufficient funds-based checks merchants couldn't cash.

andquot;It's general check-writing skills,andquot; Langston said. andquot;We generally have six in a class, for many it's a one-time occurrence.andquot;

She explained that many check-writers don't understand they can't rely on andquot;float timeandquot; any more.

andquot;They can't write a check in the hope that they'll get paid and be able to deposit money in their account before the bank processes the check,andquot; she said. andquot;A lot of merchants process the check right after it's written.andquot;

Langston's staff, who teach the class, explain checkbook balancing techniques and give their enrollees tips such as writing down debit withdrawals when they use their debit cards.