DAYTON, Ohio (AP) – A company that sold gift certificates to businesses and individuals around the U.S. has shut down, leaving thousands to wonder if unredeemed certificates for restaurants and stores are now worthless.

CertifiChecks Inc., which operated in 47 states, says it is filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. It hasn’t made clear whether it will honor the unredeemed gift certificates.

Many businesses and chambers of commerce around the U.S. promoted the Dayton-based company by offering gift certificates worth up to $100 that were redeemable at local businesses.

A Catholic hospital in Illinois says its employees have $30,000 worth of unredeemed gift certificates.

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service, a military command that supplies merchandise to soldiers at PXs, has agreed to reimburse families and others who bought the certificates and could end up paying out $700,000 for gifts not yet used.

As much as $1.3 million in CertifiChecks were in circulation in Michigan over the past year, with at least 23 chambers affected, said Bob Thomas, spokesman for Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals. Some of the chambers have small operating budgets and won’t be able to reimburse certificate holders, he said.

Messages seeking comment were left this week at CertifiChecks, and no one answered the door at its Dayton headquarters, which appeared vacant.

On its Web site, the company warns businesses that accepted the certificates in exchange for goods or services not to deposit them in the bank because they will be returned. The Web site suggests the holders mail the certificates to the company for “potential” reimbursement.

But some chambers of commerce worry that could mean giving up proof of ownership, and the holders would never be reimbursed.

“You know who everyone’s mad at? They’re mad at us,” said Jody Humphries, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Northville, Mich., which sold $25,000 worth of the certificates over the past year.

Kim Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general’s consumer protection division, said the office is aware of CertifiChecks’ situation but declined further comment. She would not say if the office had received complaints.

The gift certificates were popular with local chambers, which promoted CertifiChecks and even sold the gift certificates themselves. The certificates – worth anywhere from $5 to $100 – were redeemable at local restaurants and retailers and were seen as a way to steer business to them.

Some businesses would buy CertifiChecks and give them to employees as bonuses or gifts. The certificates also were available for individual purchase.

Just before Christmas, St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, Ill., handed out $87,000 worth of CertifiChecks to all 940 employees, most of them for $100 apiece. The hospital called them “economic stimulus checks” and held a surprise ceremony in the auditorium to deliver the gifts.

Kal Keitel, the hospital’s director of human resources, said he felt sick after learning from the local chamber that CertifiChecks had ceased operations.

About $30,000 worth of the gift certificates have not been cashed, and the hospital has agreed to reimburse those employees.

A chamber of commerce in Hays, Kan., sold a record $150,000 worth of certificates in the past year. Officials don’t know how many gift certificates have yet to be redeemed but will reimburse the holders for whatever amount it is, using cash from the sale of the former chamber building.

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service began using the gift certificates in 2003 so that military families wouldn’t have to mail food, toiletries and other products to soldiers when those products were available at PXs where the soldiers were stationed.

As of Dec. 31, 36,658 gift certificates valued at $713,290 had yet to be redeemed.

Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency, said his agency is trying to determine the current number of unused certificates bought for use in commissaries, military grocery stores separate from PXs.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.