Check fraud is a type of crime that involves the deceptive or illegal use of checks. In most situations, check fraud involves a person attempting to make a purchase or transaction using a check that has been faked, stolen, altered, or is otherwise not valid.

However, check fraud can be accomplished in many ways and can happen in many contexts and situations, not just purchases. Depending on the exact circumstances, as well as state law, check fraud may be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony crime. Check fraud also evolves over time as newer banking technologies and methods arise.

What are Fake Checks?

A “fake check” can involve many different aspects that have been changed or falsified. Checks can be faked or made fraudulent through many methods, including:

  • Illegally reprinting or reproducing a check using computer technology or scanning technology (counterfeiting);
  • Altering or faking a signature on a check (forgery);
  • Changing the information on a check, such as the banking account number or routing number (“check alteration”); and
  • Various other methods

Some other types of fraud schemes can be classified under check fraud. For instance, if a person issues a check to themselves without the other party’s permission or consent, it might be considered a form of fraud (even if the check itself is real and valid). The common denominator in these cases is that some form of deceit is used to manipulate the situation.

Can You Go To Jail For Depositing a Fake Check?

This depends. If a person knowingly deposits a fake check, with the intent to obtain money that is not theirs or to deceive a bank employee, they will usually be subject to criminal consequences. These consequences can include jail time and/or criminal fines.

The severity of the punishment typically depends on the amount of money involved in the fraudulent action. The more money involved, typically, the greater the criminal consequences.

However, if a person unknowingly deposits a check that has been faked or forged, their lack of knowledge might serve as a defense. This all depends on the circumstances, as well as state criminal defense laws.

Are There Different Types of Check Fraud?

As mentioned, a check can be falsified in many ways, including forgery, counterfeiting, check alteration, and other methods. Check fraud can also involve various ways of using checks that are not legal. These can include:

  • Payroll Fraud: Taking another person’s paycheck or benefits, or issuing themselves a paycheck they have not earned or that is not authorized.
  • Paperhanging: Using a closed or inoperable bank account to write a check when making a purchase or transaction.
  • Check Kiting: Defrauding a bank by using several checking accounts to write checks for an amount greater than the remaining balance in the checking account. They then transfers money between the checking accounts, while the checks are being processed. 

Some of these types of check fraud can be considered very severe crimes that are handled in federal court. This is especially the case for check fraud crimes that involve systematic abuses of bank accounts, multiple victims, or identity theft. Some check fraud crimes can involve many people and may occur over a period of many months or even years.

What Can I Do if I Think I Have Been the Victim of Check Fraud?

If you believe you have been a victim of check fraud, then you should alert local police authorities first. Try and recount what happened, how much was lost, and the possible manner in which the check fraud occurred.

You should also alert your bank or financial institution. They may also be able to investigate into the matter. They will also be able to close off your accounts so that no further damage or theft can be done with your financial assets. You may also consider consulting a lawyer for assistance with any legal questions or concerns you may have.

What are the Penalties for Committing Check Fraud?

Penalties for check fraud depend on whether the crime is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor check fraud is typically punishable by less than one year in jail as well as some criminal fines. Felony check fraud may be punishable by more than one year in a prison facility, and higher criminal fines.

In both cases, the defendant may need to pay restitution to the victim (i.e., pay them back for the losses caused by the fraud).

Whether a check fraud crime is considered a misdemeanor or a felony typically depends on the amount involved. For instance, in some states, check fraud involving less than $1,000 will result in a misdemeanor charge.

Check fraud involving over that amount would then be a felony. Because of this, check fraud may be considered a “wobbler” offense in many states, meaning it can be tried as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on various elements.

What are the Legal Defenses for Check Fraud?

As with any type of crime, there may be various defenses for check fraud. Coercion is a common defense to such a crime. This is where a person is forced under threat of harm to commit the check fraud (for instance, if a person is forced at gunpoint to forge a check). Various other defenses may apply, depending on jurisdictional rules.

How Do You Prove Check Fraud?

When proving check fraud, a prosecutor needs to show that the fraud occurred intentionally. That is, accidental changes or alterations to a check might not be enough to form the basis for check fraud. There needs to be some element of deceit and purposeful intent in the fraudulent use or alteration of a check.

For instance, if a person actually had the authority to issue themselves a check, and no deceit or misrepresentation is involved, there may be no basis for a check fraud charge. An example of this is where an accountant or human resources personnel issues themselves a check along with the rest of the company paychecks.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Accused of Check Fraud?

Check fraud is a serious crime. If you have been accused of check fraud, you should try and collect various items that may help to support your innocence. These include:

  • Things that prove you have access to or are authorized to use checks (such as an employee ID or other similar document);
  • Statements from witnesses or other persons who can verify your actions; and
  • Receipts and other proof of valid transactions.

It is in your best interests to consult with a defense attorney if you have been accused. Your attorney can instruct you on how to prepare a defense and what you can do to make your case stronger.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Check Fraud?

Check fraud is a serious offense that can lead to severe penalties for people who commit such crimes. For victims, check fraud can cause major financial losses and can even lead to larger issues like identity theft. You may need to hire a financial lawyer near you if you are in any way involved in a check fraud crime.

Your attorney can provide you with advice and can represent you in court if you need legal assistance. Also, if you have any specific questions about the laws in your state, your attorney can assist with those as well.