While more people are using technology instead of paper checks, check fraud is still a common occurrence in California. In some cases, individuals are using technology to find new ways to commit check fraud. The penalties for check fraud in California may depend on the amount of fraud involved and can include serious jail time and fines.
Check Fraud in California
Under California Penal Code 476, it is a crime for anyone to make, pass, utter, or publish any fictitious check with the intent to defraud another. This includes simple possession of any fictitious or altered bill, note, or check from a real or fake financial institution. Even if the individual doesn't successfully defraud the bank, it is a crime to attempt to commit check fraud.
Check fraud may also involve a number of other related criminal offenses, such as charges for identity theft, computer crime, or wire fraud. This could result in multiple criminal charges for a single check fraud incident.
Types of Check Fraud
There are many forms of check fraud in California. This could involve forging a signature to get a few hundred dollars or it may include a criminal enterprise involved in defrauding banks out of millions of dollars. Examples of check fraud may include:
- Online check fraud
- Account takeover
- Check kiting
- Check washing
- Forged signatures
- Copied checks
- Counterfeit checks
- Altered checks
- Fake check overpayment scams
Online check fraud may involve using another person's routing number and account number to make fraudulent online purchases. A number of check scams are also done through the internet. This includes offers of a fake job which include a fake paycheck. When the individual deposits this fake check, the scammer asks for a portion of the check back and the unknowing individual later learns that the paycheck was fake.
Check fraud may also involve business checks. A former or current employee may take a company check and use it to get cash. The business may never even know about the theft, which may lead the employee to fraudulently cash checks multiple times.
Check kiting is a type of fraud that involves depositing a check from one account into another to make it appear the account has a higher balance. For example, someone could open up two checking accounts, then write a check for $500 from the underfunded account to deposit into the other account. Then the individual could withdraw $500 from the account before the bank finds out the deposit was worthless.
Using a specialized printer or copier, individuals can make convincing copies of checks or print out fraudulent checks that appear legitimate. Alternatively, check washing involves literally washing the ink off a check. The individual can take a check written out to a payee for a certain amount, delete that information, and write in another payee for another amount of money and cash the check.
Paperhanging is a term for using checks from a closed account. The checks may have been legitimate at the time the account was open but after the account is closed, someone can use the old checks to make purchases or get cash.
California Check Fraud Penalties
Check fraud can carry misdemeanor or felony charges. More extensive check fraud, or involvement in a check fraud scheme may carry felony charges, while smaller scale check fraud could be charged as a misdemeanor. In general, check fraud valued at $950 or less is a misdemeanor. However, check fraud often involves identity theft, which could result in felony criminal charges.
A conviction for felony check fraud could result in up to 3 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. A conviction for misdemeanor check fraud has a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Federal Check Fraud Charges
Check fraud can result in federal charges. Under federal law 18 U.S.C. Section 1344, it is considered bank fraud for anyone to defraud a financial institution or use fraudulent checks to obtain money or property by means of a false representation.
Federal bank fraud can carry more serious penalties compared to California check fraud charges. The penalties for federal bank fraud include up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
Check Fraud Defenses
There are a number of possible defenses to charges of check fraud. In some cases, the defendant did not intend to commit fraud, did not know the check was fake or thought there was enough money in the account at the time. Others may have written in an amount on the check with the account holder's permission.
The prosecutor may not have sufficient evidence to support a conviction. However, the prosecutor may make their case sound stronger than it is in order to get the defendant to agree to a plea deal in exchange for a lighter sentence. Your experienced criminal defense attorney can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your case and fight for you.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Representation
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience and understands the penalties involved with check fraud in California. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail with a clean record. If you are facing a check fraud investigation anywhere in the East Bay, contact Lynn Gorelick understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.