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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — If you have DeCA gift certificates, forget about using them to shop at your local commissary.

The certificates are no longer worth anything at military supermarkets around the world, the Defense Commissary Agency said Saturday.

Shoppers must instead try for a reimbursement from the Ohio-based company that issued the popular gift certificates — and abruptly went out of business last week, according to DeCA.

CertifiChecks Inc. had sold gift certificates to commissary shoppers as a third-party provider since 2002.

Since then, shoppers bought more than $17.5 million of the certificates.

The program also was used by military and civilian aid organizations — USO, chaplains’ funds, the Air Force Aid Society — to help families in need, DeCA said.

CertifiChecks issued DeCA gift certificates ranging from $5 to $100, according to the commissary agency. People bought them in commissaries, over the telephone or online for the face amount plus a $4.95 fee. The fee went to CertifiChecks and covered printing, mailing and handling costs, DeCA said.

The company sold $3.9 million worth of the certificates to military shoppers in fiscal 2008, DeCA reported.

On Thursday, CertifiChecks posted a message on its Web site saying it had filed for bankruptcy in an Ohio court and directed customers interested in a "potential" reimbursement to contact the company by mail.

"Due to an extremely difficult economic environment, CertifiChecks, Inc. has ceased operations, effective immediately," the message reads.

At the main commissary on Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and at other base grocery stores around the world, notices were posted at store entrances, advising customers about the end of the gift certificate program. The notices also told customers how to go about trying to get reimbursed.

"It was a very popular program. We haven’t heard from any customers yet, but we expect to," said Bernard Ellison, director of the Patch Barracks Commissary.

The certificates were particularly popular during the holiday season among the parents of members of the military, who used the gift cards as a means for helping out young couples. "It was a great tool for them," Ellison said. "I’m sure there will be something to come along and take its (the CertifiChecks) place."

The company said it was another casualty of the financial crisis, despite increasing sales from military shoppers.

"What has happened to CertifiChecks is similar to what is going on today with many businesses being adversely affected by the current economic downturn," said Philip E. Sakowitz Jr., DeCA director and chief executive officer, in a released statement. "I regret the impact this is likely to have on our customers. ... We are, however, looking for an alternative solution to fulfill our customers’ requests for commissary gift certificates."

DeCA said it received no additional income or profit from its relationship with CertifiChecks and is now prohibited from accepting the certificates due to the agency’s federal funding regulations.

For the company’s address and reimbursement information, go to www.certifichecks.com.

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