Checks can be forged in a number of ways. A person might forge a check by stealing or otherwise obtaining checks from their owner, writing them for a certain amount, and forging the owner’s signature. They might then attempt to use the check to buy goods or services, or simply cash it and abscond with the money.
Check forgery can also take the form of forged endorsements, where a person somehow intercepts a check intended for someone else, fraudulently endorses the check, and attempts to cash it or deposit it into his or her own account.
Another, more complex form of check fraud is “kiting”. In this situation, an individual takes advantage of the “float” – sometimes, when a bank receives a check for deposit, it credits the amount of the check to the depositor’s account before debiting the funds from the issuer’s account. The term “float” refers to this delay. Kiting involves 2 bank accounts held by the same person. This person writes a check to himself, knowing that the issuing account contains non-sufficient funds, and deposits it in his other account. When the second account is credited, the person then writes a check for the same amount to the first account, which is then credited, covering the amount of the check. This artificially inflates the balance of one of the accounts.
The federal penalties for check kiting include fines of up to $1 million, and up to 30 years in prison.
The punishments for other forms of check fraud tend to vary from state to state, but they are usually quite severe.
It should be noted that the vast majority of laws that define check forgery and related offenses include intent to defraud as an element of the crime. This technically means that a person could engage in all of the overt acts which constitute check forgery, but if they did not engage in them with the intent to defraud anyone, they are not guilty of the crime. Of course, courts and juries are not psychic, so it’s impossible to tell with any certainty what was going through a person’s head the moment they committed a crime. Accordingly, such intent can usually be inferred from the defendant’s actions in committing the crime, and possibly through past conduct or statements.
First of all, check forgery is a serious offense, and anyone accused of it should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully accused, you should of course tell this to your attorney, who will probably advise you to keep any relevant financial records in your possession, and other documents which might be relevant to showing your innocence.