Girl Scouts hammer cookie customers who give them bad checks

October 1, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More

A few years ago, I dared to touch the third rail of alleged child entrepreneurialship when I suggested that instead of buying Girl Scout cookies, people give the Girl Scouts a direct cash donation. By offering to give the little girl at the door $5 cash (while her mother dutifully stands next to her prodding her to utter the sales pitch), it would be the equivalent of buying 10 boxes of sugary cookies (I had been told that the local troop only gets 50 cents for each $4 box of cookies sold). I stirred up quite a hornet’s nest by writing that article, despite the fact that I wrote it with good intentions (I was concerned about the top-heavy high paid administration of the national Girl Scouts organization and I was cognizant that almost 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes). Take a look at the 128 comments to that post and see the commotion yourself.

Now for another observation about the Girl Scouts. Yesterday I learned that the Girl Scouts have sued hundreds of people in Missouri courts (and presumably tens of thousands of people nationwide). The problem is that many people are handing the Girl Scouts bad checks when it comes time to pay for the cookies. Enter “Girl Scouts” in the “Litigant Name Search” at the Missouri Case Net website. You’ll find 80 pages of law suits brought in Missouri, most of them where the Girl Scouts have sued customers who allegedly gave the Girl Scouts bad checks as payment for cookies. In the City of St. Louis City alone, you’ll see ten pages of these suits on Case Net each of those pages listing eight suits.

I visited the St. Louis City Circuit Court Clerk’s Office yesterday to look at some of these courthouse filings for myself. I assumed that there would be a penalty for offering a bad check as payment for cookies, but I had no idea how big that penalty was. Here’s what I found (all of the images attached to this post are documents available for public inspection at the St. Louis City courthouse).

Case I: Case #1022-AC13895. A man named Troy Williams gave the Girl Scouts a check for $12.00 for three boxes of cookies. The Girl Scouts filed a suit, claiming that his check bounced and that they were entitled to enhanced penalties, attorney fees and court costs. Here’s the damages, above and beyond the 12 dollars, that the Girl Scouts sought from Mr. Williams:

A) The Missouri Statute entitles the Girl Scouts to three times the face amount of the check, or $100, whatever is greater. In this case, the penalty was $100.
B) The attorney fees claimed were $150.
C) Interest.
D) Court costs (which typically are more than $100).

This case, like many of these cases, appears to have been settled, resulting in a dismissal of the case. From the court records, we can’t tell how much Mr. Williams actually paid.

Case II: Case #1022-AC13779. A woman named Sheanna Evans allegedly gave the Girl Scouts a bad check in the amount of $21.00 for cookies. For that transgression the Girl Scouts took a default judgment against Ms. Evans in the amount of $397.08. This breaks down to $21 for the original amount due, attorney fees of $250, interest of $1.08 plus an additional fee for court costs of $125.

Case III: In case 1111-CV05969. The Girl Scouts sued Regina K. Steffen for allegedly giving them a bad check for $8. On August 9, 2011, the Girl Scouts took a default judgment against Ms. Steffen in the amount of $258.49 plus court costs, which usually exceed $100. Total cost of bouncing that check for $8 is thus in excess of $358.00.

Case IV: Case #1022-AC13789. Ms. Earsene Scott allegedly gave the Girl Scouts a bouncing check in the amount of $510.50. On April 14, 2011, a default judgment was rendered against Ms. Scott in the amount of $1,439.55.

Anyone interested is welcome to scan the data offered at Case Net, or to go down to a Missouri courthouse and ask to look at some of these files. Beware that when I asked to look at four of these files at the St. Louis City Courthouse, the clerk told me that he was too busy to simply pull files to (in his words) “satisfy your curiosity.” I responded by reminding him that I was both an attorney and an interested citizen, and that I have a right to see these court files. He then complied.

Image by Vladek at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

Many of these cases involve bad checks for amounts less than $30, but the judgments, when added to the extra fees and costs, exceed $350.

I should make it clear that I have no problem with the Girl Scouts collecting money that they are owed by people who agree to buy cookies. On the other hand, I was surprised by the large amounts of money being sought by the debt collection law firms hired by the Girl Scouts.

For me, this serious financial penalty amounts to yet another reason that you should not buy Girl Scout cookies. If you’d like to support them, give them cash (not a check) and wish them well.

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Category: Court Decisions, Law

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Leslie Santi says:

    Erich, great post! Thanks for putting this forward for people to see. I have to say that the last 2 seasons I bought girl scout cookies I couldn’t eat them after I read the ingredients, and the ones I did before noting them made my teeth ache! Mostly though, the idea that most of the money doesn’t reach the girl scouts anyway is perhaps the most relevant. (Plus what if you don’t have cash when they come by? No check writing for me, thanks.)
    Also thanks for stating your rights as a lawyer and citizen at the County Clerk. 🙂

  2. Annatar says:

    Actually, I don’t have a problem with this.

    It makes no sense to have a punishment that is the same or close to the amount of money that wasn’t paid, because that makes it an entirely viable strategy to always give a bad check. If a couple people don’t bother going after you, congratulations, you’ve come ahead.

    Proper punishment must be balanced. If too small it creates an incentive to always infringe and just handle the fines as a tax, like one of my bosses did with traffic tickets before the points system was instituted. If too large then it creates excessive damage to somebody who may be otherwise a valuable member of the society, up to the point of preventing good things they might have done otherwise.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    One of the annual rites of suburbia is the latest younger female in the neighborhood going around and selling Girl Scout Cookies. I had long ago adopted the practice of just writing a check to the local troop, as only a small amount of cookie money went to the local efforts of the GSA.

    I enjoyed supporting my daughter in her efforts with the GSA, especially as the troop worked as volunteers to achieve a GSA Bronze Award by volunteering and collecting donations of food and other stuff for The Open Door Animal Shelter in House Springs Mo.

    Open Door is a No-Kill shelter which takes in dogs and cats and puts them up until adopted or they pass away. I had been going to the shelter with my kids and their friends since they could walk. Our family has found our two current cat friends, Spock and Kiss-Kiss, at Open Door. It was wonderful that our community could donate nearly $4,000.00 in food and supplies for the shelter. I especially commend the Schnuck’s Food Store in Des Peres MO and its managment and staff for making us welcome there and allowing a site for us to solicit donations.

    I think the GSA is a good organization and appreciate the lessons learned by my daughter and the girls in our neighborhood.

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