Also, beware of thieves who "check wash."

In the last column we promised to look into Dollar Stores, another one of my favorite places to shop — as long as you are a good comparative shopper, focused on unit prices, and know when you need quality and when you don’t.

I can remember when I was a practicing commercial bankruptcy attorney and we had a saying for some retailers that had failed, and you just had to wonder what their business model was at the end. What were they thinking? The saying was, “they must have believed that they could lose money on each sale, but make it up on the volume.”

From my research on sites such as, Dollar Stores (there are several different chains) have a very effective business model. That explains how they can sell everything for a dollar and still be profitable. It is also noteworthy that locations are increasing nationally.

So how do Dollar Stores make money? Here is probably the best explanation that I found. Typically, dollar stores sell over runs, discontinued products, previous "versions" of a product, or old stock that does not sell well. They buy all this stuff at deep discounts, which allows them to sell them cheaply. For "regular" items, they are often knock-offs made of cheaper materials.

A few additional business model items worth noting, according to they carefully control as many costs as possible, including payroll, marketing, management and utilities, and, unlike the little saying, the key to their business model is to sell lots of stuff at a reasonable gross margin.

The bottom line for me is that, although many of the items in Dollar Stores are typically priced at around a dollar at competitors, sometimes the unit prices can be better. Therefore, I can get more for that $1. It is especially true when I don’t necessarily need quality. For example, what do I really use transparent tape for? If you have never shopped at one, why not take a half hour some day and walk around one. You may be surprised.

On a completely different subject, I was driving with a friend recently, following a large truck. He told me that in many states truck driving is the most common occupation. I must admit that the first occupations that came to my mind were cashiers, salespeople, and those working in the food service industry, but it turns out that it is true. According to, truck driving is the most common job in 29 states.

Here are some other statistics: there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S. Of those, 5.8 percent (just over 200,000) are women. The average age of a trucker is 49, and drivers earn, on average, $41,340 per year, with many earning over $80,000.

The most shocking thing I found was that, according to, there is a serious shortage of truck drivers. There are 51,000 drivers currently needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across country, and the shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. In fact, many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers, they are even offering signing bonuses and pay raises.

Apparently the pay is not bad, but the lifestyle is the problem, with long hours on the road, being away from family, less healthy eating, and not getting much respect from car drivers and customers. Get ready for higher prices, because I have a feeling this is going to get worse as older drivers retire.

On a final subject, I thought I was aware of most scams and frauds, until I was watching a children’s television show on a recent Saturday morning, and I learned about “check washing."

Before we get to that, a reminder — the IRS does not call you on the telephone and threaten to arrest you if you don’t immediately pay some alleged unpaid taxes. That scam seems to have been increasing again lately.

According to the National Check Fraud Center, check washing is an $815 million annual problem in the United States, and it too is increasing.

Here is how it works, according to Using a process known as check washing, mail snatchers erase the ink on a check with chemicals found in common household cleaning products and then “reuse” the checks by rewriting them to themselves. Then when you check your bank statement, you see that your check went through and the amount matches. It's only when you start getting notices that you discover that the checks you've written were stolen. By then, weeks or months may have passed. You might have lost thousands of dollars. And just imagine if a criminal rewrites the check for an even higher amount than you wrote it for!

Here are some ways to protect yourself. Consider paying your bills on line, but if you use checks to pay your bills, mail them in Postal Service-controlled receptacles. Review your checking account statements immediately when you receive them. Also, pick up your new checks at the bank, instead of having them mailed to your home, and if your bank sends you your cancelled checks, shred them.

One last tip is to use a gel or roller-ball pen when writing checks, because they are resistant to the solvents that criminals use to “wash” them.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at