Check fraud is a criminal charge that involves the deceptive or illegal use of checks. In some situations, check fraud involves a person or persons attempting to make a purchase or transaction using a check that has been faked, stolen, altered, or is otherwise not valid. The person must have the proper intent to commit the act of check fraud. 

Check fraud can be accomplished in many different ways and can happen in many contexts and situations, not just purchases. Depending on the exact circumstances, as well as different check fraud laws, check fraud may result in check fraud charges.

What’s the Definition of Check Fraud in California?

The check fraud definition listed in the California Penal Code Section states that check fraud occurs when a person makes, possesses, passes, uses, or attempts to use a false or altered legal writing, namely a check, for the payment of money or property. 

The sentence and punishment for check fraud in California can be severe. If you are facing a check fraud charge in California, you may need to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.

How Does Check Fraud Occur?

Check fraud cases ordinarily occur in California when a person has the intent to sign or endorse a check using the name of another person without permission. Check fraud includes not only the false fabrication of a check but also the making of false writing on an otherwise genuine check. There are several different types of check fraud.

What Does the State Have to Prove to Convict Me of California Check Fraud?

As with any crime, all the elements of a crime usually need to be proven to charge the person with the crime. Even if these two elements are met the facts of the case may vary and affect the outcome. Listed below are the elements of check fraud in California:

  1. The defendant had possession of the check for payment;
  2. The defendant knew the check was altered or false;
  3. The defendant intended to defraud another person or entity by making, passing, using, or attempting to use the check(s). The intent in a criminal charge is shown by circumstantial evidence such as the acts or knowledge of the defendant; and
  4. The defendant possessed the document with the intent to use or pass the document as a real document. 

There are several different types of check fraud listed below in further detail:

  • Paper Hanging– writing checks on closed accounts or ordering and, then, writing checks on closed accounts
  • Check Theft– When someone steals a check and after the check is stolen, uses the check to purchase goods or make a deposit into their account. 
  • Identity Check Theft– When someone opens up an account in someone else’s name and writes a check that is not there. 
  • Chemical Alteration-When someone uses a chemical to erase the ink on a check so they can write something else.
  • Counterfeiting– Counterfeiting usually entails a large number of checks that are created fraudulently with the intent of stealing from someone. 
  • Forged Signature usually involves the use of legitimate blank checks, with false writing or fabrication of the actual check owner’s signature. 
  • Check Washing– using certain chemicals to remove information from a check.
  • Forgery– forgery takes place when an employee issues a check without proper authorization.
  • Money Order Fraud– Money order fraud occurs when someone convinces the victim to give them a check in exchange for a money order and puts the money order into another account. 

What are the Penalties for Committing Check Fraud in California?

Check fraud penalties depend on whether the defendant was charged with a misdemeanor or felony check fraud. In the state of California, check fraud is considered a “wobbler”, so a defendant can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor will look to the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history to decide whether to charge the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. 

Misdemeanor check fraud is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony for check fraud conviction is punishable by probation and up to 1 year in jail, or 16 months to 3 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. How severe the punishment typically depends on the amount of money involved in the fraudulent action. The more money involved, typically, the greater the check fraud sentence. 

What are the Defenses I Can Use to Fight Check Fraud Charge?

Many different defenses may be raised to avoid punishment for check fraud allegations. If these defenses are argued successfully, the charges against the accused may be dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense. Listed below are several defenses to check fraud: 

  • Lack of Intent- To have committed a check fraud charge, the accused must have the required intent. If the accused attorney can show that they did not have the intent to take out money, goods, services, or other things of value, the accused may not be convicted. An experienced attorney will examine the particular circumstances of their case to provide evidence of this lack of intent. 

    • Example: If Bill works at a grocery store and reasonably believes that he had the authority to write a check to a store vendor, but did not. Bill may be able to use the lack of intent as a defense because he did not have the proper intent to defraud or deceive the store vendor. 
  • Lack of Knowledge- To charge someone with a check fraud charge the person must know the check was fraudulent or altered. An attorney will analyze the facts of the case and if the facts indicate that the accused was unaware of a particular fact or the document being false they may be innocent. Furthermore, if the mistake of knowledge charge is proven to be true, the charges may be dismissed. 
  • Consent to Write the Check- In order for a person to be charged with check fraud a person must have intended to defraud another person or entity by making, passing, using, or attempting to use the check. However, if the person accused had permission or consent to write the check the act will not be considered fraudulent. If the accused attorneys believe they had consented to write the check they may apply the consent to write the check defense. 

Should I Consult a Lawyer For Help?

California’s check fraud laws can be complex. If you violate California’s check fraud laws or have questions about these laws you should contact a California criminal lawyer. A California fraud lawyers will advise you and represent you in a court of law. 

Contacting a California fraud lawyers will help assure that you have your legal questions satisfied and can advise you on your options. They can also keep you updated if you have any questions about any changes to California check fraud laws.